The city of Berkeley is going to be testing out a program in which reusable coffee cups are loaned out through an app-based service and then returned like library books, in order to reduce paper waste.

The program, which is being launched with help from the non-profit Ecology Center, will use the Colorado-based startup Vessel to provide the reusable metal cups and silicone lids. Vessel runs an app that allows users to sign up and "check out" a cup at a participating cafe or coffee bar, and that cup can then be returned to any participating cafe or to a Vessel kiosk.

If a user fails to return a cup or loses it, they are charged $15, and $2 for every lost lid. Entering credit card information when you sign up is how the company avoids losing too many cups.

As KPIX/CBS SF reports, the pilot program comes on the heels of the Single-Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, which the city passed in January, and which limits the kinds of disposable foodware items that businesses are allowed to provide. A second phase of the ordinance that takes effect next year will require all businesses to provide compostable cups and food containers, and charge 25 cents for every cup they provide.

This is all well and good, and may even be imitated elsewhere, but it seems unavoidable that takeout food businesses are going to have to continue to provide containers for the food they sell — and while loaner coffee cups may make sense, loaner food containers start to seem a little silly. Are people supposed to start bringing their own Tupperware whenever they pick up a takeout order? And what about food delivery? I'm all for everything being compostable, but it seems like programs like these, while well intentioned, are just going to save a few wasted paper cups and not a lot else.

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