Corporate Waste: How Brands Can Rethink Their Love Affair With Giving Away Free Things


May 28, 2024

Leading this conversation, we sit down with CEO and entrepreneur of Australia’s most popular reusable cup solution; Abigail Forsyth from KeepCup to learn more about the corporate waste merchandising problem – and how you can play a part in helping by distancing yourself from the ‘swag mentality’.

Firstly, tell us more about yourself, and your day-to-day within KeepCup?

My name is Abigail Forsyth and I started KeepCup with my brother Jamie Forsyth 10 years ago. Working in the café industry, we saw first hand the rise of the disposable cup, and the fact that they are not only are they wasteful – they are non-recyclable. We resolved to solve the problem by designing and locally manufacturing a reusable coffee cup, and creating a movement for reuse.

You mentioned recently that “corporate branding is a part of the KeepCup business that you are currently pulling away from.” Can you elaborate on this?

When KeepCup started 10 years ago, Great Forest Environmental consultants were auditing waste bins and finding them filled up to 20% with disposable cups. People leave the office for a ‘coffee break’ and often return to their desk with a disposable cup. Providing KeepCups and disposable free programs to organisations is a big part of the work we do. When part of a sustainability program they are enormously valuable! For example, the Bank of England has 80% reuse rates, thanks to a focused program driving reuse across the company. However, marketing giveaways can have the opposite effect, making re-use... disposable.

We work with our customers to identify how their KeepCup program can be most effective. Branding plays into this. Are your employees more likely to use (and reuse) a branded KeepCup? Or one that’s unbranded and in their chosen colours?

It’s part of our collective affluenza; the swag mentality and that being given free stuff is a status symbol of influence.

How big a problem is corporate merchandising in Australia at the moment, and what mentality do you think is causing this?

It’s part of our collective affluenza; the swag mentality and that being given free stuff is a status symbol of influence. How many photos have you seen on LinkedIn where a great induction is a whole pile of branded stuff? I think part of it is the way marketing works traditionally in organisations... you are given a budget, and a measure of success in your role is spending it – inevitably on branded merch. We all need to look at how valuable brands really are, and whether we want to do someone else’s advertising for them.

What is the alternate to this? What should brand’s consider when planning gifting strategies?

Well, it’s about the tough stuff – people over things, conversations over consumerism, it’s about reengineering our value systems as a society, with powerful forces demanding growth and escalating consumption.

How can consumers play a part in this conversation?

By having conversations! Refusing free stuff, don’t Kondo your home, Kondo your life, it begins with how you experience the world.

People over things, conversations over consumerism, it's about reengineering our value systems as a society

If you are asked to take a gift-bag home at your next event, how can we say not without being offensive?

Good question. Remembering to give back lanyards and name tags, refusing goodie bags and unwanted gifts are all ways we can begin a conversation to change cultural norms and expectations. If appropriate, a quiet word about why is useful so organisers understand your actions are deliberate.

If you could go back 20 years, and change one thing. What would this be?

I would not allow companies to be able to exploit the resources of any community without significant recompense and buy-in from that particular community. I’m talking about water, air quality, forests, minerals, oil and gas. These resources should not be allowed to be exploited by corporations, they belong to all people, and thinking about them that way would change a good deal of decision-making. We would say no to owning a lot of things if the factory that made them was next door to our house.

Want to learn more about KeepCup, and their mission to change from disposable? Check out or follow on Instagram.

Want to learn how to reduce your single use plastic in your workplace? Read our journal here!

*Originally posted to Compass’ website April, 2019.

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