20 September 2019

A digital coffee mug. The small start-up loop-it was founded by some master’s engineering students with the aid of LiU Innovation, and their eco-friendly idea has now been launched in Studenthuset.

Sara Riad and Jenny Von Der Heydt from the company loop-it, together with Fabian Johnson from the Byttan Café Sara Riad and Jenny Von Der Heydt from loop-it, together with Fabian Johnson, manager of the student-run café Baljan. 

It’s sort of like a shopping trolley in the supermarket, where you insert a coin to borrow the trolley. For the digital coffee mug, you pay a deposit the first time you buy a coffee. When you hand the mug in, a digital mug is credited to your account and recorded on your LiU Card. This means that you don’t have to pay for the mug next time you buy a coffee, just scan your card.
“Cash is disappearing from society: small transactions are both expensive and awkward”, says Sara Riad, one of the students behind the loop-it company.

Sara Riad, who graduated in mechanical engineering, together with Jenny Von Der Heydt, an exchange student from Germany who studied psychology management, came up with the business idea of introducing a deposit system for coffee mugs, in order to reduce the use of single-use items in cafés and restaurants.
“LiU Innovation were a great help all the way, from the initial idea to the final system”, says Sara Riad. “And we also participated in the Innovation Boot Camp, where we came in second place.”

The two students contacted the Properties Division at LiU, where Marcus Jungevall was convinced by their idea. He applied for, and received, a grant from the fund for carbon offsetting.
“The concept is a perfect fit with the environmental profile of Studenthuset, and its ‘Miljöbyggnad Guld’ environmental classification”, says Marcus Jungevall. “We are working in general with the restaurants on campus to reduce the use of disposable articles, and any that are used should have the Swan eco-label. And, of course, we want to encourage LiU students.”

Predominantly positive reactions

The student-run café Byttan in Studenthuset started using the digital deposit system on 3 September. And café manager Fabian Johnson is positive.
“Many people think it’s a good idea, although some may have been a bit hesitant at first, just as I was.” The reactions, however, have been predominantly positive.
After only a week, Byttan has 300 individual mugs in circulation, and 250 people who use a mug and then return it.
“And then the digital mug also gets the same cheap price as we give to those who bring their own mug to Byttan”, says Fabian Johnson.

The amount of deposit for a mug is SEK 10 just now. LiU is financially supporting the first 1,000 mugs with money from the fund for carbon offsetting. Other money from the fund has been used to buy hardware, such as a second-hand iPad. The deposit on a mug will later be raised to SEK 20.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into setting the price”, says Sara Riad. “Everyone wants to be eco-friendly, but it has to be easy. So the price we finally decided on was SEK 20.”

Smaller environmental impact

The loop-it company has calculated that the reusable plastic mug has a smaller environmental impact than a disposable paper mug after being used only ten times. A reusable mug can be washed and used at least 1,000 times, and at the end of its life it can be wholly recycled.
“The plastic mugs do consume more energy in their manufacture”, says Sara Riad. “But after being used ten times, the rest is pure environmental benefit.”
Eventually, loop-it wants to include more restaurants and cafés in the system. The idea is that it should be possible to return the mug to any of the participating outlets. Östgöta Kök, which also sells coffee in Studenthuset, is positive, but the system doesn’t work properly in this case. But they’re supporting the idea by washing the mugs.
“So far, we have tested at Byttan, but others are interested”, says Sara Riad. “And we are involved in a Vinnova project together with IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, and the Royal Institute of Technology is also in the project.”

Translated by George Farrants

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