Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seriously, enough with the disposable cups already.

"Conscience keeps more people awake than coffee." - Anonymous

Ok, here's a relatively simple one in my view.

Let's say you work in an office building and on the way to work everyday you stop in at your local Coffeepeetbucks for a nice cup of Java. Generally speaking they'll give you a single cup, with one of those sleeve thingies and a nice plastic lid. With any luck you'll at least recycle all these products, but the vast majority of them, Starbucks annual cup use alone is 1.5 Billion (that's right, it's a B, not an M), end up in a landfill somewhere. So not only are you filling landfills, but think of all the energy and raw materials that went into that cup, thingy, and lid so that it could be used once and chucked. It makes no sense.

So if you grab some Joe everyday, and you work 50 weeks a year, you're talking about 250 cups. Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Peets, just to name a few, offer .10 back per purchase when you don't use one of their cups. So if you opt out as it were, you'd save over $25 in the first year alone. And if you invest that in a nice bond or cd, you could parlay that into a small fortune. Everybody wins right? Sure, except you can't spend any of that money because your hands are burnt from having the concerned barrista behind the bar pour scalding hot coffee into them morning after morning, and pretty soon, you've probably lost your job - and getting your pants zipped in the morning is a whole other thing.

Lucky for you there's an alternative. Re-usable coffee mugs! You can get these just about anywhere but you really want to get a quality one that is going to last, after all, they're basically buying the mug for you anyway, so why not live a little. For my money, you can't beat the mugs that Contigo makes which are available at Target amongst other places. They're really well made, durable, spill proof, and most importantly have an awesome rubber seal that is so tight that you have to open the little spout before unscrewing it due to the vacuum that can be created. They come with and without handles (that can clip on) and in all sorts of sporty colors. The one I have, which I beat on quite a bit, is going on two years and still running strong. I think it cost me 19.95, so it's more than paid for itself by now. I'm also convinced I look buffer holding it, but then again, maybe not.

And just in case you were wondering if bringing your own mug will actually make a difference, Starbucks estimates that in 2004, the first year they offered the discount, 15.1 million cups were kept from the landfills by customers using re-usable mugs saving 655,000 pounds of paper waste. Pretty cool huh.

Now if you work in an office, don't even get me started on why you shouldn't be using styrofoam. Grab yourself a nice ceramic cup, wash it out occasionally, and call it a day. On the off chance however that you work in some bizarro industry where metal is forbidden and ceramic feared, at least point your office manager to a responsible alternative such as compostable coffee cups, but if that is the case, please email as to where you work as I'd be fascinated to hear tales of such a place.

Finally, a lot of people point out that it takes energy to make that ceramic mug or metal coffee cup, and darned if they aren't right. If you feel like reading the nitty gritty, check out the specs at Ask Pablo. Compared to styrofoam use, a ceramic mug needs to be used at least 46 times to make a difference and the metal mug needs to be used at least 369 times to break even. Big numbers sure, but unless you're quittin cold turkey sometime soon, one you'll eventually hit.

Now tell me that doesn't make sense to you.

Live Sustainably

Dave

17 comments:

leigh said...

My husband and I have a deal that if you forget a reuasable mug if you stop for coffee... we have to buy another reusable mug. This generally leads to the question, do I really need a cup of coffee (At 4 pm for $4) and reminds us to tote along the mug at all times.

Dave said...

Great way to train yourself Leigh. I doubt it took long. Personally, I just won't buy the coffee and consider that punishment enough but I like your version better. I think I'll go that route, but rather than buying another mug for myself, buy it and give it to someone in line while explaining what I'm doing. Might as well convert one more person while I'm at it right? Of course we'd probably all be better served by breaking our addiction, but who are we kidding right?
Thanks for the advice.
dave

Duane said...

And that's what I like about this blog... including the numbers comparing metal and ceramic mugs to paper cups makes this site more real... less dogmatic than most...

It got me thinking: (and not picking on Leigh here, just using her example, and let's say it's me... since I'm much more wasteful and not nearly as "sustainably evolved" as most of your readers)...

If I own a mug, forget it and then buy another metal mug, I've punished myself by effectively adding 369 more paper cups to my footprint. So the math becomes more complicated... sure, I get credit for trying, but....

Obviously not buying the coffee would be the best solution... but, what if I had to buy the coffee? For some sort of coffee emergency? (Oh please... you can't tell me you've never had a coffee emergency.) Would it be better, if I had to buy the coffee, to use a paper cup, this one time?

Obviously, if you can justify that, then you'll eventually justify using paper cups every day, so I'm not suggesting that. I'm just wondering... for the purposes of the "math". Would that be the better solution?

I liked Dave's idea of buying the mug for someone else... until I realized that his punishment for forgetting the cup wasn't the purchase of a new cup... it was pouring a scalding-hot latte into your cupped hands while the customer behind you in line fondles his newly acquired metal mug... painful, but effective.

Again, Leigh... not picking on you here... quite the opposite. In fact, on a sliding scale, I'm probably closer to "gross polluter" than I am to "leaves only footprints", but I'm learning...

Forgive me Dave... obviously brevity is not my strong suit.

Dave said...

My two cents Duane, I think you make a good point, perhaps buying the one cup would be better than the metal one again, but like you said, it's a slippery slope from there. It does bring something to light though that i think the whole "green" movement suffers from, this all or nothing mentality. Another post for another time, but suffice it to say, none of us reading this are ever going to lessen our footprints to those of poor people in third world countries who are, while maybe not by choice, living much more sustainable lives than we ever will be. I've always felt the way to win this thing (if such an idea exists) is for each of us to look at our lives, and then do a little better. Then re-evaluate, and do a little better. Etc. Etc.
As for the scalding hand thing, I like Leahs idea much better so as soon as I have the reconstructive surgery on my hands, and apologize to the coffee bean and tea leaf guy - and perhaps pay for his therapy- I'm going that route.
What is this brevity thing you speak of?
dave

IceBrain said...

Hi. Actually here in Portugal nobody ever serves coffee or tea in disposable mugs, we always use washable mugs. It's more a cultural thing than the urge for recycling, but it serves the two purposes :P

haverwench said...

I've heard this advice before, but I've also heard different statistics as to the number of times a mug has to be reused before it beats the equivalent number of paper or polystyrene cups in terms of resource use. Check out this analysis on Treehugger.com:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2004/11/ecotip_coffee_c.php

It seems to me that if you already have a good reusable mug, there's no reason not to bring it with you to the coffeehouse--but if you don't, buying a brand-new one might not be the soundest choice for the environment.

Dave said...

Great piece and thanks for pointing it out. I should have made the point that using something you have is always better than getting something new. Also, if you read the treehugger article complete with posts, it shows that not all apsects are taken into account. I also think that there is a conceptual point here that we can't just go on accepting a disposable culture as being ok. Bottom line is not everything is as cut and dry as we all think and i thank you for pointing that out.

KroQ listener Tim said...

After reading this, it seems like I work for a pretty good company. I used to stop every morning for a bagel and a cup of coffee with my reusable plastic mug purchased from the bagel shop. Since they charge less if you use their mug (a loyalty program), I rarely forgot it. I spent around $3 a day five days a week.

At work, I'd go to the "coffee bar" most mornings and get another fancy coffee, but usually in their paper cup*. Sometimes a snack, too. Call it five cups and $15 more a week.

Recently the company installed you-know-whatBucks machines for self-serve coffee. Not my favorite brand, but it was free. For a few days we went through paper cups like crazy. Then, about a week later, they passed out ceramic mugs to every employee.

Since the coffee machine was installed I've stopped going to the bagel place, and stopped using paper cups entirely. I drink more coffee, but I'm getting decaf now so I consider that a positive balance. If a ceramic mug needs to be used 46 times compared to a styrofoam cup, that's only three or four weeks.

At the rate I'm going, I figure I'll "earn" a metal mug in just a couple of months. And compared to the $25 a year you mention, I'm saving more like $30 a WEEK.

*The paper cups are compostable, and for cold drink the "plastic" cups are made of corn oil or some such. And if the essence of wit is brevity, I'm only half brief.

elftao said...

I work at a Starbucks...almost every store that I've worked in has old, unsold-formerly-retail-(usually Halloween, occasionally xmas) mugs for the partners (employees) to use for their own beverages. Plus, every Starbucks has ceramic mugs in-house if you're planning to have your drink there - just ask!

Average Jane said...

I like it! I didn't know the exact math before, but I've been doing it for a few years now and I've probably surpassed the "worth it" mark. I've been saying for oh, ten years or so, that if we want to get rid of plastic bags just charge $15 for them, each. People would figure out pretty quick, I'm guessing seconds, that they don't need them. They could even use the boxes that the food comes to the store in to take stuff home in....like we all used to instead of putting those in a dumpster.

Maybe we could start charging $15 for disposable coffee cups, but of course it only works if everyone does it!

dumpsterdiver said...

I just love reading everyone's suggestions! I'm so glad to see that the "all or nothing mentality" has been moved over a bit to make room for "middle of the road-ers", so to speak. If I have forgotten to brew & carry my own coffee for travel, I carry one or two proprietary mugs in the car: 7-11 and/or Dunkin' Donuts. Those chains give refills for under $1. Why give them $2 if they're willing to accept $1.00 and all I have to do is remember to keep them in the car (with my re-usable water bottles and grocery bags!)

bobbie said...

theres always goodwill for the cup, i try to buy a lot of my crap there...

Aparna said...

This is really very bad news for our environment.

Barto said...

Another simple thing to carry is chopsticks. Easy to clean (just wipe 'em off) and easy to carry. I've got a pair of those cheapo ones you automatically get at every asian joint and I've had the same pair for over a year. Saves on a lot of sporks and other plastic crap! Also, the "best" outcome for Starbucks disposables is downcycling, not recycling (but you knew that...)

An Observer said...

Excellent Blog, I am just now learning about sustainable living it has been something that in the last two years has started to shape the way I think. You guys have inspired me to take my own cup to meetings, and on trips, I had not thought through the numbers of cups I have left in my path. Also have been changed to using bottles nalgene instead of plastic, and paper cups. Keep up the good work you inspire me.

Kevin said...

This is a great post. I just wanted to bring up the point that this is more of a cultural problem than anything.

I was recently at a large professional conference (over 1000 people) which lasted 5 days and had catered meals with paper plates and plastic cups as the norm. Now, being the eco-friendly guy that I am, I have a backpack similar to Dave's with a plate, silverware, mug and water bottle. So I used it the whole week. The comments I got ranged the whole specturm, with some people saying it was great and considering it for their next conference, to people calling me a 'hippie'.

The one thing that really bothered me though, was that the conference organizers included a water bottle in the registration package so that EVERYONE at the conference got one. I only saw about 10 people at the conference using their water bottles. It was pretty depressing.

Also, I am a bit bothered by the fact that they gave out (steel) water bottles at all. From what I saw at the conference, most people had no interest at all in using them, and I guarantee that most people just ended up throwing theirs away. How can that be good for the planet. Just giving someone a water bottle (or a reusable mug to relate it to this discussion) is only going to work if the receiver is willing to participate, otherwise you are giving the bottle (mug) a direct path to the landfill.

Just some crazy thoughts.

jeneflower said...

I just got back from Starbucks ironically. I didn't even know they offered this. I have never seen anyone bring in a refillable mug. I'll have to ask them about it next time. Thanks for the heads up.