Tucker Mitchell, Mr. T Carting Marketing Project Manager
As part of our ongoing customer feature series, we sat down for an interview with Michael Cyr, the founder of CupZero. Started in 2019, the company provides reusable durable plastic cups for catering and event spaces. The Zero Waste service provides shipping, storage and cleans the cups–helping customers reduce waste generation and meet their Zero Waste goals. Cyr was a former sales team member at Mr. T Carting and used his experience and industry knowledge to launch a successful sustainability service in New York City.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is CupZero?
“CupZero is on a mission to change single use culture, starting with one cup at a time. Basically, we look for opportunities where there’s a lot of single use beverageware being used and then we replace that with reusable systems. What we do is a lot of the dirty work of delivering, picking up, washing, sanitizing off-site so our customers can focus on what they do best: throwing big parties, concerts, festivals. [Laughs] they’ve got enough on their hands.
When was CupZero founded?
“We started in 2019. We got our washing space up and running in May of that year.”
Where’s your washing space located?
“We are on our third, biggest and best washing space in Long Island City!”
So cup Zero is growing pretty quickly, then?
“After the pandemic, we had to. At one point we had a problem where we just didn’t have enough space to dry and wash and move around all of our cups.”
Speaking of the pandemic, you were founded in 2019. That must have been a struggle.
“It was terrible. It was a really difficult time. We had just gotten our legs under us as a new business. We had a bunch of recurring clients and a couple venues. And then the pandemic hit and all of our customers went out of business. Not only were they not contracting with us, but a lot of them didn’t survive after the pandemic. We spent a lot of time trying to convince restaurants to go zero waste. I tried the coffee shops and the bars but it was just a really tough time to pitch sustainability and reuse in the midst of a global pandemic. It wasn’t until June and July of 2021 when events started picking up. It was this really hesitant time where venues didn’t know how many people they could have, they didn’t know if they had to do on the spot vaccine checks. Those were all really small events. Now it seems to be back–business as usual. Which is a cool time to be around. It’s a great growth phase.”
How many drink containers do you think CupZero has “saved”?
“This year we’ve saved over 300,000 cups. We’re pretty close to the half a million lifetime mark.”
Do you recycle cups once they’ve become unusable?
“We want to reduce the amount of lost cups [as much as] possible. There is always a loss rate. That happens. And I want to make that clear. We’re dealing with nightlife. Our goal is always to minimize that. Our cups are super durable, so they don’t need to be retired very often. But if they do get stepped on or someone puts out their cigarette on the side of one. We do need to retire those. We work with a local recycler called Precious Plastic. They are a DIY shredder facility where they will shred things on site, put it into an injection mold and make an art project or something out of it on a local level. It also teaches kids the full cycle of recycling.”
You used to work at Mr. T Carting. What can you tell us about your experience there?
“Mr. T is a great company. I went there with the hopes of getting everyone to manage their waste better. That was what I wanted to accomplish: to get everyone to recycle, to get everyone to compost. I was pretty quickly hit with the fact that not everyone necessarily wants to do that as business owners.”
How did your time working at Mr. T Carting inform your experience founding CupZero?
“I had a very clear moment where I was doing a waste audit on an office building in Manhattan. These buildings produce hundreds and hundreds of bags every night. And I had this feeling, standing knee deep in trash, weighing all of these bags and recycling bags and looking at how bad the recycling was sorted. And just looking at all the other buildings around, knowing that every waste station from every desk, every cantine is coming down to the bottom every day to be trucked out all the time. There’s a limit to what recycling can actually accomplish viably. So for me I was like ‘we can keep pushing towards trying to get people to recycle better or we can make systems to make less waste in the first place’. That’s really what my drive for starting CupZero was. I had seen similar systems in Europe before. I didn’t see anything like that in the US, really and definitely much less in New York.”
What’s next for CupZero?
“What’s next for CupZero is 1: Growing out in New York. And 2: We want to move into a couple different cities in the next year or two. My vision for the world, and what I think the world needs is similar to all of the carting companies out there. I think there needs to be an equal amount of washing stations as there are transfer stations out there. I really want to set up washing infrastructure in as many places as possible.”
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight?
“Return your cups if you’re at an event!”
CupZero is also running a second business focused on providing reusable coffee cups to coffee shops. Customers can borrow a cup from one coffee shop, and return it to another participating business. Michael Cyr describes it as “Citi-Bike but for cups. You don’t have to worry about remembering your own, you can just check one out whenever you get coffee.” You can learn more about both companies by clicking here. CupZero is based out of Long Island City.