A number of Sydney cafes are temporarily banning reusable cups in reaction to the spread of coronavirus, out of concern that handling the cups could increase transmission of the virus.

Pablo & Rusty, both Sample Coffee cafes (and the spin-off Old Gold), Bonnie, and Mecca are among the cafes implementing the ban for the safety of their customers and staff. They’re following in the footsteps of larger companies such as McDonald’s and Caltex, which have already introduced the bans this week. Starbucks outlets in the US, the UK and Canada have also stopped accepting reusable cups for the time being.

“It’s just an extra way to protect our staff from contact,” Ainhoa Martínez, co-director of Sample Coffee Roasters, tells Broadsheet. “We’re all for reusable cups, but this is a very special situation. The world is trying whatever it can to stop the transmission of coronavirus. This seems like one of the things we can do to cut transmission.”

Martínez says around 50 per cent of Sample’s customers use their own cups, and that while the decision to revert back to takeaway cups wasn’t taken lightly, the escalation in Australian cases has forced their hand. Sample’s cafes will also offer hand sanitiser to customers and only accept contactless payments until the situation has calmed down. It’s also asking customers to avoid leaving litter such as tissues lying around its cafes, and to hold off shaking employees' hands, or giving them high fives or fist bumps. Martínez has set up a page on Sample’s website detailing the actions the company is taking to prevent spread of the virus.

Pablo & Rusty’s, which has a cafe in Sydney’s CBD and sells beans wholesale to numerous cafes around the country, has also made the decision to stop accepting the cups. It already only accepts cashless payments. Customers will still be able to use its Huskeecup swap system, as the cafe will put the cups through a commercial dishwasher before passing them on.

“It’s not something we’re excited we have to do,” Chris Tate, Pablo & Rusty’s operations manager tells Broadsheet. “Sustainability is something that’s important for us, and we see reusable cups as a great pathway to reducing the industry’s impact and users’ impact. But we recognise it’s a pertinent decision in these crazy times, and part of the risk management process for us.”

Pablo & Rusty’s is a certified B-corporation, which means it meets the highest standards for social and environmental performance and transparency. Tate says the CBD cafe has seen a fall in foot traffic over the past few weeks, and will likely experience an even further downturn as large businesses and buildings close in response to Covid-19. Like Sample, it’ll be doubling down on its use of hand sanitiser and wiping down of surfaces as the virus continues to spread.

“We’ve been monitoring things very closely, taking advice from the relevant authorities and being careful not to jump to conclusions, or jump into hype or spin,” Tate says. “We want to encourage people to continue to support their local cafes.”

Not everyone is turning away reusable cups, however, with Haymarket’s Edition Coffee Roasters continuing to accept them. “[We’re] still accepting all kinds of reusable cups,” owner Daniel Jackson tells Broadsheet. “Of course we are doing everything to stay and keep people safe, but why should we stop all our efforts for the war on waste?”

March 16, 2020 update: Paramount Coffee Project, Reuben Hills and Cherry Moon General Store have all confirmed they will not be accepting reusable cups for the foreseeable future.