ˈdʒʌst ˈswɒp ˈɪt. – Swap your disposable coffee cup for one that’s sustainable and reusable; swap mindless consumption with one that’s mindful of sustainability.

The Neukölln district office interviewed me for their newsletter, asking all the right questions. They’ve given us permission to post an excerpt of the interview here. Thanks again!

You’re sending a signal in the name alone: JUST SWAP IT. A clear call to fight today’s wasteful culture of disposability and to foster a certain consciousness for sustainable consumption. When did you first come into contact with the topics of sustainability and waste reduction? That was definitely a few years back. At the end of 2014, the topic had really gotten my attention through everyday situations: Walking past a café, I noticed people sitting outside drinking their coffee from paper cups. Paper cups! They weren’t even using them as to-go cups but were just sitting out in front of the café, enjoying their coffee. It would have been just as easy to use the café’s dishware instead of disposables. The whole scene seemed completely absurd to me!

This moment on the street was the beginning of it all for you? Your idea for JUST SWAP IT. to-go cups was born? Maybe not exactly the idea for the product that I currently offer but something in me drove me to want to change something, so I started researching consumption of disposable cups. The study from Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V. (DUH) hadn’t yet been published, but I quickly discovered that these disposable cups were in fact creating a huge amount of waste worldwide. I had the thought to bring a nice reusable coffee cup to at least my favorite cafés, giving local people a real alternative to these common to-go cups made from paper or synthetic material.

What happened after you made this decision? I spend some time from then on with product design and different materials, but couldn’t find anything that really fit what I was looking for. My cups had to be stylish, such that people would want to walk around with them, and they had to be made from renewable materials. While I was researching, I stumbled across bamboo as a natural substance: Bamboo is a grass that grows extremely fast and quickly develops wooden fibers. Because it grows so fast, the plant absorbs enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and produces more oxygen than most other plants. It also requires no fertilizer or pesticide. Perfect for my purpose! I sketched a few cup designs and looked for a manufacturer. It made sense that I would find the people to make my cups in Asia given the material.

So that’s how your business got started. The whole process you’ve described, founding your company and developing your product, seems to have gone quite smoothly. That’s right, and so my company JUST SWAP IT. was born! The name really drives home that we should be swapping disposable cups for sustainable reusables. Swap mindless consumption with sustainable consumption.

Even though it does seem like everything just worked out from the start, it didn’t. I talked with a lot of people and realized pretty quickly that it was going to be difficult to counter consumer convenience. This was the reason why I developed this deposit system with my partner at the time, Clemens Pech, which turned into a pilot project in 2017 with over 21 cafés in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. At a CleanUp event in Neukölln, we collaborated with the people from the “Schön wie wir” project (Pretty like us) for the first time. We didn’t just display our cups at the Maybachufer market but, together, we really engaged and supported the effort to make our neighborhood a little bit nicer for everyone.

Our pilot project was a real success, and the topic was really gaining visibility in public and in politics. We received an award from DUH and were invited to do many interviews. At the same time, we were learning that our product wasn’t working in this large deposit system, unfortunately. The cups weren’t brought back often enough and the production costs were too high. After Clemens Pech left to join the RECUP company, I decided to continue on alone. Since mid-2017, I give companies and organizations the opportunity to design their very own reusable cups. These serve as a signal for sustainable coffee culture and consumption at these organizations’ events, trade-fairs, but also as gifts to clients or customer giveaways.

So you’ve also experienced some ups and downs. Makes it even sweeter than that the concept has now proven its worth. But what makes your reusable cups so special? What makes them different from other models on the market? Our bamboo cups are made from bamboo flour and cornstarch and are reinforced by synthetic resin. The lid is made from food-safe silicone. What’s special is that our cups have been tested in a German lab for their suitability for hot beverages, and the results confirm that they are stable receptacles and dishwasher-safe. Our goal is to make people aware of waste reduction, which we’re also realizing is even more possible through the cup’s unusual design. We’ve been able to generate a lot of interest that way.

And what’s next for JUST SWAP IT.? Do you have ideas or concrete plans for how to reach even more people? We’re planning future special-edition cups, designed together with Berlin artists, to really make reusable cups a lifestyle product. We want to ensure that these reusables are a part of everyday life and are happily used. Since only a usable and indeed used reusable cup can reduce waste. For this reason, we’re happy to see so many cafés giving a discount to customers who bring their own reusable cup. We also plan to introduce water bottles and glass straws into our collection. Here’s to us all becoming more mindful and sustainable, also more responsible, as consumers!

We’re very happy to see you as a Neukölln resident really doing something to make not only Neukölln a nicer place to live but also other districts. Is there anything that you haven’t said yet which you would like to share? We still have a lot to do – let’s get started!