Saying NO to disposable cups

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hello all!
Sorry I was away for so long - been in nomadic mode for the past 2 months, with lots of moving in and out - had the internet, but my brain wasn't available to sit down and write.

During these travelling times, I lived out of a suitcase, which I enjoy because it makes me realize how easily I can live without some items, and which objects are absolutely necessary (more on this later).

Also, there was a lot of working in coffee shops.
Being the being that I am, naturally I always try to ask loud and clear for drinks FOR HERE, IN A REAL MUG, IN A REAL CERAMIC MUG PLEASE, several times if necessary. Sometimes I'll ask them to put fruit juice into mugs, if they don't have real glasses made of glass.

Some might argue that real mugs take water & electricity to wash and dry. Sure enough - actually if anyone has studies and numbers to forward me I am very interested in this issue.

The way I think of disposable cups is the following:
- plastic cups take hundreds of years to decompose & are a product of the fossil fuel industry, which I do not wish to support.

- the majority of "paper" cup are lined with polyethylene (PE), also petroleum based, which prevents both composting and recycling [scary to think that very hot drinks are being poured directly in contact with PE before being drunk(?) by us]. Also, paper cups rarely travel without a brand new sleeve of corrugated cardboard, a lid made of plastic (usually #6 = Polystyrene or #7= Other), and/or a stupid straw (#5 = Polypropylene PP)

- "compostable" cups (made from plants, etc) will compost only if they are thrown on a compost pile; good luck with that. I live in a pretty progressive town and composting is still far from being a common sight, especially at the city level. If these cups end up in the regular bin, they'll take as much space as the regular plastic ones (most people, me included, do not always crush), which is a burden on the public waste management system, which is paid for with public (our) money.

- the more we say NO loudly , i.e. express our refusal as customers to be part of the problem, the more companies will have to take our opinion into account, because these material choices will start impacting their own logistics.

- ceramic mugs / glasses can last centuries (millenia!) if properly taken care of.

- getting a drink and producing zero waste is a wonderful feeling.

I try to go to independent local coffee shops instead of (inter)national chains, to encourage local businesses and economies. But it's also important to talk about the big chains, for when they make little moves their impact is huge. So, because Starbucks is the largest coffee house company in the world and because their employee benefits are not bad, I want to end with this tip for Starbucks customers:

Starbucks has amazing mugs.
Large, comfy, beautifully shaped ceramic mugs.
All you need to do is ask for them.

Take care!

ps: the interesting context that made me go to Starbucks in the past few weeks (I used to never go), is the gentrification of my neighborhood - yet another problem. Basically, the closest independent coffee shop increased their prices all of a sudden, becoming more expensive (!!), & with no info on how they compensate their employees.

pps: the one problem with the Starbucks mugs is that most of them seem manufactured in China. Making / buying local mugs is not difficult, and I wish there was a push in that direction.

ppps: I am not endorsed by any company. noooo.


  1. I actually ran the numbers on disposables vs. washing when I did sustainability audits in the US. I left the data on my old laptop, I'll have to see if I can get my brother to forward it to me... basically washing over and over again doesn't even come close to the inputs needed to grow, harvest, produce, package and ship one disposable item. Corporations like Key Bank, Alcoa, and Huntington could have slashed expenditures simply by switching to reusables (but they didn't. Of my former clients, only small, locally held companies like a local university, Sherwin Williams and nursing homes made the switch, with great results). In Korea a lot of business / hospital / school cafeterias use real plates, forks, and napkins- I believe Samsung does this.

    1. Oh this is so interesting! Would love to see the data - it seems to make sense intuitively because of that entire system of production you are talking about. You're absolutely welcome to make a guest post on this topic here!
      Thank you for sharing this. Keep me posted!

  2. Oh and I'm with you on the locally owned coffee shops. A modest cup of ginger tea at a small locally owned independent coffee shop in Cleveland was $7. $7!!! For a slice of ginger in boiled water! The same shop charges way more for macarons than Pierre Hermé. Grrr....