Friday, September 12, 2008

Coffee Should Kick Start Your Morning Not Global Warming

With Presidential debates, Caribou Barbie and a Wall Street bail out at top of mind, the issue of disposable coffee cups seems slightly immaterial. However, as the summer retreats like an Alaskan glacier, I find myself craving a grande skim latté to combat the fall chill in the morning air. So last week, recovering from a cold and out of my favorite home brew there I was Sustainable Mom at the drive-thru ordering my first latté in months. As I waited for my hot frothy beverage to arrive, mentally justifying my purchase as support for the local economy, I decided I should look into the subject myself to see how bad that disposable paper coffee cup I was about to receive actually is for the environment.

The Damage

According to Sustainability is Sexy, a Seattle-based non-profit, paper cup use in 2006 accounted for 4 billion gallons of water wasted, 6.5 million trees and 4,884 billion BTU’s of energy used amounting in 252 million pounds of garbage in landfills.
According to Ideal Bite, if you purchase one cup of coffee (or tea) in a disposable container every day, you create about 22.75lb of waste each year.

According to The Recycler’s Handbook, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every ear and Styrofoam cups are the worst culprits, as Styrofoam never degrades. Although in theory Styrofoam is recyclable there are few facilities that do it and very small portion of it is ever recycled.

According to Rob Martin, the Vice President of Merchandising and Production for Tully’s Coffee, Americans’ consume more than 16 billion paper cups every year. In September of 2007, Tully’s became the first coffee company to introduce a fully renewable and compostable coffee cup for their hot beverages. The cup, also called the the ecotainer™ is made by International Paper and is lined with a corn based bio-plastic and is certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)..

In contrast, Starbucks uses cups that contain 10% recycled paper. While this may seem like an irresponsible choice, Starbucks' director of environmental impact defends it well in a recent interview with Sustainability is Sexy. He sites both the unlikelihood of a typical Starbucks coffee consumer composting their coffee cup, as well as the questionable ethics of using corn to produce the 2.3 billion coffee cups, in light soaring demand for corn for use as biofuel.

The Solution

The easiest way to reduce coffee cup waste is to make and drink coffee at home in your own cup. Although I’ve tried several organic and fair trade coffees my favorite remains Stew’s Choice from Stew Leonards. It beats a latté any day.

When drinking coffee on the go bring your own cup. Keep one in the car, at home and at the office. While the manufacturing of reusable cups has a greater impact according to Sustainability Engineer Pablo Päster a stainless steel mug breaks even with paper cups after 24 uses. It is also valuable to note that in 2006, Starbucks found that coffee drinkers used reusable cups an estimated 17 million times, which kept 674,000 pounds of garbage out of landfills.

I have to admit that I have not found a reusable cup that I prefer to the paper Starbucks latté cup. My coffee never seems to stay hot enough and then the stainless steel cup I have can’t be put in the microwave, so I find myself pouring it into a ceramic cup to warm it up one last time before I leave to heat it up. It is kind of a pain so instead of using my reusable cup on more than one occasion I have washed my latté cup and poured my home brew in it.

Write letters to your local paper educating members of your community on the waste associated with coffee cups.

Encourage merchants to use ceramic cups for in house customers and recycled paper or compostable cups when and where practical. At the blog Wise Bread – living large on a small budget they suggest walking out of a store that does not offer a reusable alternative for staying customers.
Encourage merchants to offer a discount if you bring your own cup. Come armed with the facts – let them know that a 2000 study found that Starbucks could save more than $1 million per year in packaging costs by implementing reusable cups.

Join the Facebook group to stop Dunkin Donuts from using polystyrene cups.

Will using a disposable coffee cup be the worst environmental offense you make today? No
Will using a reusable cup put an end to the credit crisis? Probably not, but I don't know for sure.
Will it slow the retreat of Alaskan glaciers? It just might and it is definitely worth a shot.


Unknown said...

Starbucks also gives you a 10 cent discount for bringing your own cup.

Sustainable Mom said...

Thanks Mary! I forgot to add that great suggestion for encouraging merchants to support efforts to reduce the use of disposable cups. Providing discounts for consumers "who bring their own" creates another positive incentive and saves the merchant on packaging and in store waste removal.

Sustainable Mom said...

Today I went to Dunkin Donuts and bought an insulated reusable cup for $2.99. They made my latte in it and only charged me for the cup so I actually saved money on my latte!!

On Monday I went to a local bakery..Cakes by the Lake (awesome cakes by the way, plan to feature them in my forthcoming birthday post) and she gave me a refil in my reusable cup for free! Of course I did just buy a big birthday cake from her but either way these reusable cups are looking better every day!!