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Coffee Cups and Trash

November 30, 2011
makes you want to drink up!

photo from bmitchellw / flickr

After college, my first “look Mom, I have a job” job was as a barista in a coffeeshop. As an the new guy, my main responsibilities were mopping, dishes, and taking out the trash. Several times a day, I’d empty vast garbage cans full of insulated paper cups. And I got fed up.

I don’t know what to call that feeling — maybe green angst — but every time I took out the trash, I was just plain frustrated. Even though we had ceramic mugs, people didn’t think twice about using a new paper cup every day, and then tossing it out.

The job didn’t last too long, but I never did resolve that green angst.

I decided to dig a little deeper.  How wasteful are these things, anyway?

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, with over a billion cups consumed every day.  As the world population grows, and coffee shops spread, it’s clear that this is a problem worth solving.

The alternatives are fairly common-sense: bring your own mug, if you’re in a rush. Or order it in a ceramic mug and enjoy it in the shop. Whenever I can, I get my coffee “for here” and enjoy a five-minute break from my day as I drink it. I think coffee tastes better out of a real mug! Oh, and it reduces waste and makes my day a little more sane. This ain’t rocket science.

A study commissioned by Environmental Defense and Starbucks [pdf] looked at the details. Using glass or ceramic mugs instead of throwaway cups produces “tremendous” environmental benefit: drastically less energy used, less water use and pollution, and reduced garbage.  (I could’ve told them that last point!)

So, what should we do? As a consumer, try to bring your own mug. It feels good, tastes great, saves money, won’t spill, and makes a difference. Spread the word – double your impact by getting one friend on board!

Beyond that, don’t be afraid to talk to your local coffeeshop. Chances are, they want to do more to prevent waste, but aren’t sure how their customers feel.

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