A wheat straw plastic cup, what could go wrong? As much as I love socially conscious efforts, the reality remains that “being socially conscious in one aspect does not a socially conscious business make”. (That’s a quote I made up, to be read in ‘moral of the fairy tale‘ voice.) Meaning, you don’t get to do one good thing and think you’re conscientious when everything else about your company is shady.
Being socially conscious in one aspect does not a socially conscious business make.Tweet
There are a stunning amount of deceptive business practices that amount to scams. The Friendly Cup is a spectacular fail; the issues surrounding an otherwise interesting and environmentally friendly product turned me away from singing its praises. And by the way, the Friendly Cup Trustpilot reviews reflect my experience exactly. They even apparently hacked a coffee shop’s Facebook account. Let’s dissect.
Wheat straw plastic is made of the straw leftover after the wheat is harvested from the plant. The straw is typically baled to be used for animal feed, etc. By breaking down the cellulose, a completely natural polymer can be formed. This is done by breaking down cellulose lignins in the straw and mixing them with sugar.
Lignins in wheat are already quite hard, which is why humans can’t eat them. Heat, maceration, and adding sugars creates a polymer substance that is then shaped and cooled. Once cooled, however, it would take a lot of heat to re-melt, same as with any microwavable plastic.
Ultimately, the growth of the wheat removes more CO2 from the air than is released during the process of creating wheat straw plastic. That is what makes wheat straw plastic such a promising technology.
The final product, while not plastic in the petroleum-based way we’re used to, looks and acts exactly like that plastic. Also:
The Friendly Cup is an online brand hawking eco-friendly wheat straw plastic products, including a Friendly Travel Mug for $34.99, a Friendly Water Bottle for $36.99, a Friendly Thermos Cup for $34.99, and some other products at similar price points. In short, they appear every bit the eco-friendly company with a forward-thinking eco-friendly technology. And that is how they lure you in.
I had a 12 oz Keep cup that was similarly priced, socially conscious, and withstood years of heavy use, including traveling to many countries with me. It’s only gone because I lost it somewhere in my many travels. That’s what I wanted out of The Friendly Cup. That is not what I got.
The cup, despite the many failings it has, is made of wheat straw and not plastic.
If I’d finished writing my exposé in Medium about common internet scams, I may not have succumbed to this company’s deceptive practices. It has all the hallmarks of an internet scam, and my experience is affirmed by the many reviews on Trustpilot, blog posts and Instagram comments, ergo this is not just a one-time incident. In fact, the scam is so common that a quick Google search would instantly blow its cover. Alas, not enough people (including myself) did even that much prior to purchasing, and thus the Friendly Cup is still scamming away.
The TL/ DR here is that it’s far over-priced, and if it weren’t mis-represented, I never would have bought this product at any price. Even though I use it, I still need another cup for the purposes intended that would encompass the use this cup gives me, so it was totally unnecessary.
The #1 most important thing for a socially conscious company is that its products need to work just as well as, or better than, their equivalently-priced competitors. This is true whether the competitors are socially conscious or not; the product just has to work. And The Friendly Cup does not: It leaks, it doesn’t seal, and it actually falls apart.
This isn’t an isolated incident, as the other reviewers reported the same. The cup is actually three detachable pieces, which is not at all made clear: An inner cup, an outer shell that the cup sits in, and a lid that is supposed to screw on over the outer cup but doesn’t do that very well. Seriously, like one bump in the car even in ‘closed’ got coffee everywhere through the top. You can actually sip it decently with it closed, I found out by accident. It also dribbles down the side if you tilt it too much when full as you drink because it doesn’t seal when opened. For $27, I expected quality, not stains on my clothes.
Imagine my horror when searching for wheat straw cups for this review and finding that these cups can be ordered in bulk for $1.80 each. Versions of this cup sold by reputable sellers are priced at half to a third of the price I paid, and that was after the 30% discount from the outrageous asking price. The identical cup was sold on Walmart.com for only $13.49. I am AGHAST.
It’s 280ml in volume. As an American I admit I grazed over this and didn’t exactly do the light conversion to really understand how tiny this is. It’s about 9oz. So with the way it spills, you can basically fit two shots of espresso in it. Seriously, the coffee shops near my house don’t even sell 8oz of drip coffee and at that it’s hardly worth filling as a to-go cup from home, for me anyway. It literally fits less than my doggo coffee mug.
Alone this wouldn’t sound alarm bells necessarily, as many Chinese companies have come a long way with quality and technology. As other countries emerge with laxer laws and lower-cost labor, China has moved ahead with other differentiating features for manufacture. The person chatting with me on Instagram led me to believe they were local (which I’m sure they would say is my problem).
The two main reasons that the cup shipping directly to me from China were alarming: Cost and environmental impact.
Considering the exorbitant cost and no other information, I expected the cup to be made in America. Seeing the Made in China and Chinese writing on the sticker after waiting two months for the product, I immediately suspected I was scammed and that’s what sparked the investigation.
The undercurrent of believing the product is local is not just goodwill for your own community, but minimal environmental impact as well. Purchasing this cup for less money from Walmart, you could safely assume that the cups had been shipped overseas in bulk, which is at least efficient and minimizes fuel expenditures on transit. But shipping cups over individually costs more because it’s less efficient and thus more impact on the environment.
If an account messages you advertising another account or business, that’s a sign of a scam. Why? An actual company will send targeted messages to people who might be interested, not use third-party ‘burner’ accounts. Those accounts are used to SPAM people because the company knows the SPAM accounts will be shut down by the platform, and they need to keep the main page alive to appear legit.
In this case, like other targets I was approached on Instagram by a third-party account asking if I knew about the company and about eco-friendly wheat straw plastic. It was a pleasant intro, but mere weeks later that account was deleted.
The Friendly Cup ‘representative’ talked up a message of environmentalism in the message and the website had all the right ‘green’ messaging. The scammer said they liked my account and explained they are a small company wanting to do good things, and it would be great if they could get supporters like me.
The Friendly Cup is preying on the trust people have for environmentally-friendly companies. Nearly 70% of Americans prefer environmentally-friendly businesses and 63% of people said they trust them more.
The end result is that I felt like I wanted to buy from what I thought was a small, innovative green company. Yes, the prices were really high, but I was getting a discount (more later), and doing a good deed. Alas, that is the same manipulation that tricked everyone else into a false sense of security as well. The language was so potent that a quick Google search would have easily revealed the scam, but I didn’t even do that. SMH.
This doesn’t even get into the false lure of their alleged “Brand Ambassador” program, as detailed further in Point #5.
Nowhere on the website does a street address, phone number or email appear. The only About of the company is a small paragraph on the FAQ page of the website, and that itself is very vague. It basically says, “About us: We love the environment! If we don’t protect it we’re all going to die.”
The messaging is also inconsistent. On Instagram they boast free international shipping, but on the first page of the website they say the shipping is only free with an order over $60. Then in the FAQ page, they say shipping costs vary. Inconsistent messaging is a bad sign.
Other key information is missing as well. For instance on Instagram they say they “donate to make our planet clean”, but this is never elaborated on the website or in any of their posts. That type of boast needs to be backed up otherwise it looks just as fake and pandering as it really is. For shame, The Friendly Cup. For shame!
The Friendly Cup has at least 5 ‘official’ accounts that I can see on Instagram, and at any one time one or more of the accounts are down. All have the same bio and very similar content. What legitimate business does this? So the account your third-party SPAMMER sent you to may not exist, may have been banned for 30+ days, or the name may have been changed— but the operation continues.
The website also changes URLs and redirects frequently. When tracking my order in the Shop app, I would try to click over to the website and it would be down. Within weeks the sites change, and every time I tried to bookmark I would have to perform a separate Google search to find them.
This doesn’t appear to be true of The Friendly Cup yet, but in the past (with the Cleansense Moon Scam), the scammer’s social profiles were so inundated with negative comments that all photo commenting was turned off. I would expect TFC to do the same soon, considering the overwhelming comments on what a scam this is.
The invite from the company was not simply to try their product; they wanted me to be their Brand Ambassador. Via Instagram, the third party scam account said they were small and could not afford to give away the product yet, but they could offer a 30% discount code and a code for my followers, plus I could earn commission. They also said they would feature me on their main accounts which would gain me more followers. HA!
At least I can say that I didn’t fall for that part of the scam. You should always be paid for your work as a Brand Ambassador. You don’t pay someone else and hope for commissions. That’s basically MLM/ Pyramid Scheme.
I bought the product because I needed a to-go cup and this was a socially conscious option, not because I wanted to be a Brand Ambassador for them. Only if it were actually a great product I would have recommended it, and this blog post would be positive. My reviews are always genuine. Being a BA to me doesn’t mean getting money and/ or free products to give fake praise or mislead my friends and erode trust.
I was apparently fortunate in receiving my purchase albeit nearly two months after ordering. That’s about 50 days more than the 10 days cited by the website, and there is no COVID warning. Many targets never received a product at all, and couldn’t get an answer from the formerly friendly company reps. Again, this is the same game that many others use, including the Cleansense Moon scam that I dissected in Medium. They get you to buy, ask your order number even, then when you have an issue or question they’re nowhere to be found.
Plus, if you believed the company’s line about being a Brand Ambassador and earning ‘commissions’ and ‘publicity’ for promoting their products (which would never add up to even the cost of the product for most people), you would be doubly disappointed.