Ask Eartha: You’re allowed to use personal coffee cups again
Dear Eartha, I love coffee and end up stopping to purchase a caffeinated beverage several times a week. Sometimes I remember to bring a travel cup from home, but it’s a lot easier to just use the disposable cup from the coffee shop. The cups are usually made from paper, so they’re not too bad for the planet, right? Can’t they be recycled?
In Summit County, all single-use hot and cold drink cups (and their lids) end up in the landfill. It’s not a local anomaly, either. According to a recent article in Science Daily, nearly 300 billion disposable cups end up in landfills every year. Many cups, even those that look like they’re made from eco-friendly paper or cardboard, contain a plastic laminate coating inside, and almost all come with a plastic lid — none of which is easily recyclable.
The solution? Travel with your own mug. Not only does bringing your own reusable hot beverage container spare your local landfill the additional waste, but a high-quality hot beverage container can become a sort of comforting sidekick, a caffeine-carrying teddy bear that you will prize for keeping your drink hot much longer than any disposable cup.
Although many cafes and coffee shops prohibited the use of personal containers during the COVID-19 pandemic, personal mugs are once again permitted almost everywhere. Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, not only welcomed the use of personal cups again, but is now actively encouraging customers to use them. The company, which in 2020 declared a goal to reduce its waste by 50% by 2030, recently announced plans to phase out single-use cups. There’s talk of rewarding customers who bring their own cups with a small discount.
Granted, using one’s own cup might prove difficult for customers who order at the drive-through or online. A recent CNN article reported that drive-thru and mobile orders account for 70% of Starbucks’ sales in the U.S. However, the company is toying with a cup-borrowing program in which customers pay a deposit for a reusable cup and get it back upon returning the cup. There’s also discussions of using temporary holding containers for preordered beverages and then transferring it to the customer’s own vessel at the drive-through window or at the counter, as well as adding a window for customers to drop off mugs for filling at an earlier point in the drive-thru process.
It may take awhile, but the bottom line is that even behemoth companies like Starbucks are pushing customers to use personal beverage containers. And of course, Summit County is already home to many independent cafes and coffee shops where your reusable mug is welcomed with a smile.
In Colorado especially, where we’re famous for carrying our dented and stickered water bottles everywhere (although statistics show that Americans throw away about 60 million plastic water bottles every day, most of which are not recycled), the same should become true for that durable travel mug. Simply make it a permanent fixture in your car or backpack.
It’s an easy habit to adopt. As foreign as it feels to most of us earth-loving Summit County residents to sip water out of a disposable bottle, it should feel just as weird — or downright wrong — to drink lukewarm coffee out of a laminated paper cup.
“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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