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City launches revolutionary trial program aimed at rethinking the traditional to-go cup — and it's giving out cash to participants

"We have the courage to test new solutions."

"We have the courage to test new solutions."

Photo Credit: iStock

The Danish city of Aarhus is setting an example for the world by trialing a three-year program that allows citizens to use and then return reusable coffee cups, Forbes reports.

Aarhus is named after the river Å, which passes through it. In 2022, the company All In On Green used a robotic arm called SeaProtectorOne to collect trash from the river for a year and a half. It fished out over 100,000 single-use cups — a major facet of the city's plastic pollution problem.

In response, Aarhus decided to improve on its existing recycling program.

Denmark, like many other European countries, has a deposit system in which you pay upfront for recyclable bottles and cans, then get your money back when you recycle them, Forbes reports.

The new program works in much the same way — but instead of selling drinks in cans or even recyclable plastic cups, the city provides reusable cups, which are "recycled" by washing and redistributing them.

Businesses can opt into the scheme, and as of January, 44 cafes and bars are on board, Forbes reports. These companies benefit by not needing to provide their own cups. Citizens, meanwhile, can either keep the reusable cup or return it to one of 25 deposit machines for 5 Danish kroner (about 70 cents) per cup.

It's a great deal for participants and a great deal for the environment, too. Trash in the river isn't just ugly; it's dangerous for wildlife and sheds microplastics. By switching to reusable cups and offering a cash incentive, Aarhus is making it easy and profitable to protect the environment.

Similar programs have been tried by businesses such as Starbucks, and Forbes also points out small-scale cup-return programs in other locations. Aarhus is the first to try it on a citywide scale.

"Aarhus must be greener and more sustainable, and Aarhus must be a city where we have the courage to test new solutions," Nicolaj Bang, counselor for technology and environment in Aarhus, said in a press release. "We use enormous amounts of takeaway packaging in Denmark, and consumption is increasing. Therefore, it really matters if we can make it easier for both consumers and businesses to choose a more sustainable alternative to disposable packaging."

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