Your Reusable Coffee Mugs May Be Bad For The Environment

Science | By Diego Henderson | August 11, 2019

The time is nigh for everyone to start thinking about our impact on the environment. Every couple of weeks it seems that scientists are coming up with a new date for the end of humanity due to human-caused global warming. It was a hundred years, then twenty, now five. Something needs to happen.

There are some obvious things that we can do to eliminate waste, like consider what disposable objects we don't need to create more of. Things like ketchup packets or straws are just two things that we could eliminate, but that is no easy task. Another piece of disposable trash that society is currently dealing with are disposable coffee cups.

Many coffee chains are now allowing customers to bring in their own coffee mug to use instead of the typical disposable cup, though that is slow to catch on simply due to convenience. Earth-conscious people swear by the reusable mug, but could it be more wasteful than a paper cup?

The Problem with Disposable Cups

Disposable coffee cups are a huge part of our culture, thanks to huge chains like Starbucks. People often get two or three Starbucks coffees a day. People have been talking about the harm of coffee ups for some time. In 2016 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall drove through London on a bus that was covered in thousands of coffee cups to illustrate how many cups Londoners go through every few minutes.

Disposable coffee cups often have a lining that can make them difficult to recycle. They are also hard to make with recycled materials due to health reasons. While Fearnley-Whittingstall's stunt turned some heads, it hasn't really slowed down coffee cup usage. The answer isn't to close down coffee shops. They are a vital part of the economy, so what is the solution?

20 to 100 Uses to Make a Reusable Cup Worth the Effort

While coffee shops have started to adopt a system where they allow customers to bring in their own cups, as well as offering discounts for bringing in their own cup, this is only 5% of coffee drinkers. It isn't catching on due to the simple inconvenience. There is also another problem, and that is that reusable coffee cups also produce their own type of waste. It takes 20 to 100 uses for a reusable cup to actually be worth the effort since it takes more energy to create them. 20 to 100 uses isn't a lot, but it is still something to consider.

A similar issue comes into play with electric cars. They might use less gas, however, the batteries become an issue when they need to be disposed of, and it takes a lot of resources to even create the battery in the first place.

What are the Alternatives?

There are alternatives to reusable cups that are being investigated. The best case scenario would be to use compostable coffee cups. There are issues with compostable coffee cups though. They can only be composted in special facilities. While the types of facilities that will accept coffee cups are increasing, they are nothing compared to the amount of people using coffee cups.

Reusable coffee cups might be our best bet as of now, but unless you are going to use them 20 to 100 times, they can be just as bad as disposable cups. That means if you are someone who hoards coffee mugs, you might be hurting the environment just as much as those people who go through three to four disposable cups a day. Pick your favorite mug and use that as often as possible to make a real difference.



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