The Sustainable Guy

Think Sustainably.

Avoiding Disposable Coffee Cups is an Easy Way to Reduce Waste


Day by day, billions of to go cups are used around the world to fuel our desire for coffee. Contrary to what the name implies, however, to go cups aren’t necessarily used on the go. Just last week, while in the eco-conscious city of Portland, I observed dozens of patrons drinking their coffee in to go cups though they hung around and consumed it at the roastery itself. In one instance, a waitress’ offered me a disposal cup on instinct, even after I mentioned that the order was ‘for here’. I rightly stopped her and kindly requested a mug, which were in available in abundance right beside the disposable cups. Rather than feeling a sense of shock or surprise, I was more disappointed in the bad habit that we have massaged for far too long.

The damage is perpetuated by the common misconception that disposable to go cups are recyclable. Many eco awareness raising organizations like Planet Ark and Clean Coffee Project discourage people from not only using, but also recycling to go cups. This is so because the hybrid makeup of to go cups, which contains both plastic and paper, disrupts and contaminates the recycling processes at facilities, doing more damage than good. Biodegradable cups pose problems as well, as they must be composted in conditions likened to that of commercial composters void of food scraps. These conditions are not always available to the bulk of the population so this hardly seems like a suitable solution moving forward.

Luckily for us, the sustainable solutions to the coffee cup problem are simple, cost effective, and readily available for all to take part. The obvious and hassle free first solution is to simply request your coffee be served in a mug when consuming in house. Well, duh. By doing so, you’ll help to form sustainable habits in the roasteries within your community and cut down on waste in landfills. The second, more personal habit forming based solution revolves around bringing your reusable thermos with you when making coffee runs. You might even save a bit in doing so too. I’ve been taking my insulated reusable canteen to Starbucks over the past few weeks and they have welcomed it with open arms, even knocking off 50 cents for the effort. Many local coffee shops do the same.

I prefer my reusable to go cup to be sans plastic so I opt to use an insulated stainless steel water canteen (no difference in taste to me). The hot coffee permeates throughout the canteen which makes it awfully hot on the lips though, so I purely use it for transport to work where I then use a ceramic mug. I’m not much of a to go coffee drinker so that method fits my lifestyle better, but for those of you who are, check out some of these reusable cups.

In sustainability, it’s not about the grand gestures, but the simple and consistent decisions that we make on a daily basis. Like the tortoise and the hare taught us, slow and steady wins the race.

Until next time, The Sustainable Guy out.

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