UYOC – Use Your Own Cup to save the planet


Do you know how many ‘recyclable’ and ‘compostable’ takeaway coffee cups are actually being recycled and composted? Sadly, almost none! The technology is too complex for most New Zealand recycling centres, so thousands of coffee cups are ending up in landfills every day.

Laura Cope launched UYOC (Use Your Own Cup) in an effort to support sustainable cafés, and educate New Zealanders on reducing single-use waste.

“Our grandparents would have thought it ridiculous to use something once and then throw it away,” says Laura.

“Plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups – these things are completely unnecessary.”

Since her childhood, Laura’s family was always very conscious about packaging when shopping and they ate in at cafés rather than taking out.

The first time Laura really had a proper look at the conflict between environment and humans was when she worked for an Australian tropical research foundation in the Daintree rainforest. “It is a very sensitive ecological area with a huge flow of tourists. Beneficial on the one hand by bringing finances to the area but the local tourism industry has also brought many issues home.” Laura’s job was to find out how hostels, hotels and businesses could keep things clean. Laura, and the other volunteers, spread positive messages about disposing of cigarette butts, clearing up after you’ve visited parks and about the products that bars and cafés were using and how visitors could be more proactive and mindful.

On her return to New Zealand, Laura wondered how she could grab the community’s attention without accosting strangers in the street and delivering passionate lectures to them.

“I didn’t want to produce another physical product that the world is already overloaded with, even an eco-friendly one. Starting something that would encourage people and businesses to work together as a community to cut down on waste was what I really wanted to do.”

After many sleepless nights, the idea of UYOC was born. UYOC (pronounced “you-yok”) is an online guide (www. ) that unites cafés and restaurants who are working with the environment in their minds and kindness in their hearts. The guide indicates whether a café or restaurant has vegan or gluten-free options, is open to mums breastfeeding their little ones, whether they are pet friendly, have discounts for reusable cups, choose reusable straws or will refill your water bottle at no extra charge.

Through the UYOC website, people are discovering new mouthwatering spots to try, while learning more about their environmental impact. Cafés are receiving new customers and are proudly marked as responsible and sustainable businesses. It’s a win-win!

“Tauranga, Papamoa and Mount Maunganui have some of the most proactive businesses around the whole country! When we launched UYOC in November last year, it was the Bay that started putting their hands up first. Even cafés that aren’t listed with us yet are supporting us on their Instagram accounts and keeping the momentum going.”

The power of social media and word of mouth are UYOC’s main marketing tools. Laura is convinced that for many of us living a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s simply a matter of having our eyes opened. “I often hear people saying ‘I just didn’t think of that’. And once they do – they take action.”

By sending out all this information digitally, Laura sets a real-life example. “I love the responsive and supportive community on Instagram. We’ve made some great connections with bloggers who identify with this idea and are driven by honesty and passion. They are giving us a lot of support! Our cafés are also sharing with their followers and so the word is starting to spread.”

And while this wheel is spinning, Laura is about to nudge another one into action. Through UYOC, this ‘green’ entrepreneur is going to raise funds for charities who work to alleviate suffering and who protect nature. She already has Sea Shepherd NZ, the Million Metres Streams Project, 350 Aotearoa, the Jane Goodall Institute NZ, Kiwi Harvest, Our Climate Declaration, Dine Aid and The Dunedin Wildlife Hospital on the list.

“These NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and grassroot organisations are working with resources that I don’t haveand most of us don’t have. So, rather than doing something just on my own, I wanted to support those who are already in a position to make a huge difference.”

To raise money, UYOC will be taking fees from the cafés but only after they have had a free listing for a year. The first year of UYOC is completely sponsored by Laura. “My career has been quite a successful one. I’m now 47 and have enough life behind me to feel economically comfortable. If I’m in a position to do more, to give more, to be more pro-active and I have time to do that, which so many of us don’t, then I need to be doing that! In some way for me, it’s  payback.”

$1 per day or $365 per year may be nothing, even for the tiniest street food truck, but is crucial for charities.

“If I have 10,000 cafés in New Zealand signed up with UYOC, I will then be able to give away three million dollars, which could really make a change!”

UYOC has already donated $10,000 to the start-up fund for The Dunedin Wildlife Hospital, to be housed in the Otago Polytechnic Veterinary School. In return, the faculty pledged to make the Vet School disposable cup free.

“We are trying to do so many things at once –to raise revenue for charities and NGOs; to push the idea of sustainability in hospitality; to build a café and consumer community based upon a war on waste; to encourage a change in mindset. Using something once and throwing it away is avoidable. It is one of the main things we can all do on a daily basis that will make a really significant impact to the health of our land, oceans and air. For me as a mum it’s really about how to make the world a better place for my child, and it really does come from the heart. When you’re fanatical and passionate about something, it can be intimidating and scary, but I want to save this planet! Or at least give it a little flick. I’m 100% convinced it’s this time right now when we’re kind of balancing on the edge of going one way or the other.”

How to participate

For cafés:

  1. Sign up to the UYOC guide for a year’s free trial. Get promotion for your business, brands and companies you work with. Let the guide show customers that you’re making a change for good and then support customer efforts to do the same.
  2. Download free signs from to let your customers know you welcome reusable cups, will only provide straws on request or will refill water bottles.
  3. Follow UYOC on Instagram ( and Facebook (@uyoc.useyourowncup) and tag them when you do something good – they will spread your news. Whether you list with the guide or not, they’ll always be as helpful and supportive as they can!

For individuals:

  1. Make time to stay and dine in, but if you must take away, use your own cup.
  2. Use to find a café that has what you want.
  3. Tag on Instagram posts about your reusable measures, environmental initiatives or events in your community, and reusable or sustainable products that you love. They will share your news with their followers!
  4. Become a UYOC ambassador. Get in touch via the website or Instagram and receive personalised business cards to leave behind when you visit a café.
  5. Teach your children to reuse, refuse, refill and reduce.