Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Problem with Disposable Coffee Cups

Did you know that if you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you'll create about 23 pounds of waste in one year?

Because so many disposable containers are used throughout the world — and because the resources required to make those cups are considerable — the environmental consequences can be quite staggering.

According to Ideal Bite , eighteen percent of garbage we produce is composed of disposable containers. Beverage cups made of virgin paper or — worse yet — styrofoam, make up a large chunk of that waste.

Americans trash about 25 billion styrofoam cups each year. This nasty material does not biodegrade. So 500 years from now, the polystyrene cup you toss out today will still exist either in a landfill or somewhere in our environment.

Most paper cups for hot beverages are laminated with a plastic resin. This process keeps your beverages warm and inhibits leaking — but it also prevents the cups from being recycled. Starbucks now makes its disposable cups with 10% recycled content. They won't use a higher percentage because the recycled cups they've tried in the past leaked or failed and customers complained. There is a new type of biodegradable and compostable paper coffee cup available, but they are a bit more expensive, relatively resource intensive to produce and have not yet been widely adopted across the country.

The fact is, no matter what they’re made of, most disposable beverage cups end up in landfills. But there is something you can do about it. Join the growing movement towards reducing coffee cup waste.

We’ve been working with a great new non-profit, Green Cafe Network , which is greening all aspects of the coffeehouse industry and harnessing café culture for environmental education. More cafes are working to cut energy consumption and expand recycling and composting programs. Many now offer discounts if you bring your own cup.

Our partner company, eco imprints, offers a wide range of stylish, insulated, leak-resistant reusable coffee tumblers you can personalize and tote around. We've done a lot of research on the subject, and vetted out the best suppliers. Our favorites are made of stainless steel, but we carry tumblers made of corn plastic, biodegradable plastic, recycled plastic, and other durable materials.

It's true that manufacturing reusable cups creates a bigger initial environmental impact than paper cups. However, that impact lessens over time as the reusable cup is, uh, reused. Each reusable cup has a “magic number” of uses at which point it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup.

Sustainability Engineer Pablo Påster published a study last year in Treehugger, which found that after 24 uses, a stainless steel tumbler breaks even with a paper cup in terms of environmental impacts.

Considering that most reusable mugs are designed to be used at least 3,000 times, the positive eco impact of a reusable tumbler can be enormous.

To assure you always have a reusable mug when we need your caffeine fix, you can always keep a few extras on hand: one at home, one at the office, one on your bike, in your car or in your bag.

The daily impact of reusable beverage holders may seem small, but it adds up quickly. We're encouraging corporate clients, non-profits, and individuals to switch over to reusable tumblers.

If we can all get more friends, family and responsible organizations involved ...the reusable revolution will grow, and Mother Earth will get a much-needed coffee cup break.