One of the most treasured parts of my morning routine in college was going to the local Wawa on my way to class to grab coffee. What am I feeling this morning – French vanilla? Dark roast? A mixee between regular and one of those?
I never once brought a reusable coffee mug because there was something about coming out with my Wawa paper cup in my hand that I had become accustomed to.
With National Coffee Day tomorrow, I find myself reflecting on this routine and many others in my “adulting” chapter. As I got into a full time office environment, I could not understand why in the office people were choosing paper cups to place under the Keurig machine when there were mugs that created zero waste right next to them in the cabinet.
Did they like the feeling of having a paper cup in their hand just as I did at Wawa?
The truth is that we love our routines. We love the feeling, the warmth, the satisfaction and yet, quite frankly, may not know what impacts our routines are even having on a global scale.
I did a bit of research thinking about how many coffee cups from Wawa I threw away throughout the course of my Senior year due to this routine. It added up.
According to Waste Advantage Magazine, it’s estimated that Americans throw away 50 billion coffee cups per year.
You might be thinking, “Well, I throw it in the recycling bin for paper.” So did I.
I honestly thought that was the right thing to do, felt better, was having less of an impact, not going into landfill, etc. The reality? Most coffee cups have a material in their paper called polyethylene, which makes it non-recyclable.
Because of this material alone, 1 in 400 coffee cups are actually recycled when you toss it into the paper recycling bin. BUMMER RIGHT?
Polyethylene is also the culprit of why most plastic bags aren’t recyclable from the grocery store. Can you stop killing our vibe polye-whatever you are!?
My next question is – what is the REAL impact of polye-whatever getting thrown away? Whether it’s burned or put into a landfill with no recycling capabilities?
When Polyethylene is burned, it releases VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) into our air that we live, breath, love, exercise, everything in. Remember that term from Chemistry? I do somehow even though it was an 8am. In short, with too many VOC’s in the air, they create a hazard for us to breathe and lead to headaches, nausea making us actually SICK. These can also damage our liver, kidney and central nervous system.
When Polyethylene goes into a landfill, it means soil that is is placed in can never produce any agriculture ever again (well technically much longer than the span of our lifetime)! It takes over 1,000 years to biodegrade and instead continues to break down into toxic particles. They then contaminate our soil and water or the community that they are land-filled in. Not sure if Land-filled is a word but I just made it up.
ANYWAYS. Not to be a debby downer but big impacts am I right?
I’m not saying you’ll remember every time to bring a reusable coffee to go mug. I sure don’t. But if you do, and you have that clean to go coffee mug staring at you from the kitchen shelf on your way out, I would encourage you to grab it. Sometimes I think, “Oh, it’s too heavy.”
No – it’s not – it’s going to make an impact and create less of the above, which is worth it, I counter think to myself.
In addition, there are some (not the best) monetary incentives at local coffee shops. If you bring your own mug, Starbucks typically gives you some money off. At my local coffee shop in Old City, there is a 50 cent discount between coffee in a mug (to stay) and coffee to go. Refills are only one dollar in the mug rather than another $3 for to go. At another local coffee shop in Center City Philadelphia called Square One Coffee Roasters, your first refill is FREE with a stay in mug.
If you are staying in a coffee shop to work and hang, the best thing you can do is remind them to put your coffee in a mug rather than to go container. They, like us, forget sometimes out of routine.
My new habit? Feeling the warmth of the to go mug in the fall, on my hands!