Story of the mugs

Arrifana Restaurant in Portugal is refusing 5000-6000 single use plastic cups a year! By using the custom-made mugs in the picture, this is the story of how they came to be…

(This post was originally written for the blog My Plastic Free Life.  I´d like to thank Jane for helping with the writing, Claudia for translating, and Arrifana Restaurant for giving me their mug image to use across my site.)

(Versão em Português aqui)

Aljezur is a small Portuguese village that dates back to Medieval times. It is located in the South of the Costa Vicentina, a natural park which runs from Lisbon in the North, to Burgau on the South coast. Aljezur’s West coast is the Atlantic ocean and to the East lies the hills of Monchique.

Aljezur boasts many wild and beautiful beaches, among them is Arrifana. Arrifana itself is an ancient fishing village. White cottages cling to the cliff edges and line the sides of the steep winding lane that leads down to the beach itself.

In recent years Arrifana, although still a working port, has become less famous for its fishing as it has for its surf. It now attracts surfers and holiday makers from all over the World. In high season the small village of Arrifana is a hive of activity. It´s hugely popular with big wave riders and novice surfers alike.

A few years ago a small restaurant based at the bottom of the lane came under the ownership of a man named João Pedro.  With his local knowledge, love of good food and the sea, his restaurant is now a very popular destination in itself. During the season it is hard to get a seat on the terrace with the breathtaking views, Arrifana Restaurant literally hangs over the Atlantic Ocean, to the point where João Pedro says that;

“the breathtaking views and smells from the sea are all part of the foods seasoning”.

Michelle Cassar, a local photographer, surfer and avid reader of My Plastic Free Life and, who herself has been living plastic, although not free, a lot less for the last 6 years is one of Restaurant Arrifana’s customers. In 2013 Michelle approached João Pedro about working together to reduce the restaurants plastic waste.

The fact that The Arrifana Restaurant is so close to the Atlantic Ocean, which sadly is home to two of the largest plastic gyres in the World, meant that João Pedro jumped at the chance. Adding that “these things take time and planning”. Michelle, whilst agreeing it would take time to implement change, suggested ideas that can be quick.

That following weekend João Pedro purchased glass bottles, supplying people free water with a sprig of fresh mint, on every table, thus greatly reducing the amount of SUP (single use plastic) water bottles. (The water is sourced from large plastic bottles, but those are sent back to the supplier and refilled.)

The next step was to implement the change during their busy Thursday night parties.  the restaurant provides a set menu followed by live music and dancing for the surf schools, this night quickly became very popular with holiday makers and locals alike. During the meal glasses were used but after eating had finished, the tables were moved to the side ready for dancing.

The glasses at dinner were replaced by single use plastic cups – SUPs of which 100’s were used every week. Joaõ Pedro says the resturant used between 5000- 6000 single use plastic cups every year. Despite a long and conscientious clean up after everyone had gone home, how many of these cups ended up in the ocean we will never know. SUPs cups regularly wash up on Aljezur´s beaches.

Having recently been to a Medieval festival that happens every summer in the nearby town of Silves, where all the food and drink are served in and on terracotta dishes and mugs, Michelle suggested that João Pedro look in to this for an alternative to the plastic cups and put him in touch with a supplier. João Pedro actually found a supplier even closer to home, in the next village Atelier Vicentina in Carrapateira, who was happy to customise some mugs for the restaurant.

Adopting a deposit system for the lovely new glazed terracotta mugs that are re-filled during the evening and then either returned for the deposit back or kept as souvenirs.

After just a couple of weeks of using them João Pedro said,

“I don´t know why we didn´t do this ages ago!  They are brilliant, every one loves them and we are saving over an hour every week in cleaning up time.”

João Pedro is so excited he hopes other restaurants, bars and events will follow his example.  There have been many obvious advantages to using the mugs over the single use plastic ones;

  • They look better!
  • They are pleasant to drink from
  • They hold more, so people have to return to the bar & queue less (as they are slighty larger people are charged accordingly.)
  • The drinks stay colder
  • It´s easier to carry a few, when buying drinks for friends
  • People keep & take them home will show their friends, so good for advertising
  • They are the perfect size for a morning cuppa tea!
  • 5000-6000 SUP cups have been refused in the summer of 2014 alone.
  • These cups haven´t had to be made, oil drilling is a hot topic at the moment in the Algarve with plans being made to drill.
  • The restaurant is supporting a local craftsman

Is it a perfect example of what individuals, when they work together can achieve. Had Michelle not learnt about plastic pollution, and then not spoken to João Pedro this change probably wouldn´t of happened.

There is always further to go, but until then this significant victory is to be celebrated.

The heart beat of the Costa Vicentine is beating that tiny bit harder, as people work together preventing plastic pollution.

For more information on the restaurant & the area, head to their website:

Restaurante Praia Arrifana