There were paper cups for as far as he could see.
Slocan entrepreneur Niko Papercups had just spent the week busily selling coffee at Shambhala Music Festival nearly 10 years ago, but when he walked the grounds on Monday morning he was overcome by what he saw.
“I saw all of my paper cups everywhere, all over the place, just laying on the ground,” he told the Star.
“It was absolutely disgusting. I was walking through all of this garbage crying and crying, and I said I’ll never do this again — and I never did.”
These days Papercups has developed a multi-faceted business model in which he fills a particular festival niche, providing warm beverages in purple plastic mugs, while also making a living repairing machines as his other alter-ego, Espresso Medic.
The flamboyantly purple-clad character has become something of a fixture for festival-goers, but this is all a far cry from what he was doing before: working as a lighting designer in Montreal.
“After I left theatre there was a void, and I had to find a new love of something technical. The espresso world filled that void for me. It’s pretty much a religion,” he said.
“Sometimes I step back and go what happened? How did I become this person? When you talk to my friends from 20 years ago they can’t believe I build espresso machines and repair them and rap about paper cups.”
Yes, it’s true: there is now a track and music video, produced by Adham Shaikh, in which Papercups makes his frustration with festival waste known. He wants to make clear he doesn’t have an issue with all disposables — hamburger clamshells, for instance, he believes are eco-friendly — but to-go papercups have earned his full ire.
“It was recently reported that 22 per cent of the garbage being collected in the Greater Vancouver area is paper cups,” he said.
“I’m not saying I have all the answers, I just want to instigate the conversation.”
The music video was a multi-year collaboration with Shaikh that started when Papercups jumped on stage during the DJ’s set at the Bass Coast Festival about five years ago.
“There were thousands of people there, and I don’t know what came over me. I ran right past security and told Adham, ‘This is perfect for my rap.’ And he was like, ‘You do a rap?’ Then he just handed me the microphone.”
This summer Papercups made appearances at Unity Festival and Starbelly, and he’s now a registered artist with the Society of Canadian Artists. He plans to continue to taking his anti-paper cup message to anyone who will listen. To learn more about Papercups, visit his website nopapercups.com.