About that Cup o’ Joe…

Reusable coffee cup“This will keep your coffee warm for an entire ferry ride,” I remember the salesgirl saying at Pegasus when I bought my first reusable commuter mug, 20 years ago. Finally! I was a true Seattlite, I drank coffee, cared about the environment and carried a used coffee cup around with me as proof. Not something you’d see in Boston, I remember thinking with pride.

After years of eschewing coffee house coffee due to the cost (my habit was costing about $1,000/yr.) I’ve started to go out again with friends for the occasional cup o’ Joe. And, I’ve noticed an unsettling change.

Twice now in the last month, I’ve ordered a tea or coffee “for here” and assumed that it would be served in a porcelain cup. Not so. As I turned back to my companion to continue our conversation, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, that my beverage was being poured into a paper cup! What?! Before I could protest, the damage was done. Cup used.

At Bainbridge Bakers, there is a huge garbage can indoors (so these are drinks that were consumed on the premises) filled to the brim with paper cups. A sure sign that I must be vigilant, go on the defensive, and bring my cup with me.

What if Everybody Did?

Chris Jordan plastic cups Running the Numbers

Screen capture from Chris Jordan’s TED talk. One million plastic cups used in 6hrs on airplanes.

Most Seattlites know of Chris Jordan, the photographer/artist/activist, if you don’t, it’s worth the two minutes to look at just the first part of his 2008 TED talk about his Running the Numbers project.  He uses images to show, among other things, how much Americans waste in a day, month, and year.  Or, take a quick look at his talk on plastics in the ocean. (Not to freak you out or anything, but 2.4 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean every hour.)

The biggest message regarding waste is to be aware of the “behaviors we engage in unconsciously.”

Americans use over 4 million plastic cups a day on airplanes and 40 million paper cups a day for hot beverages (2008) – equal in height to a 42-story building. Wow.  Time to tote a reusable beverage container or two around with you, eh?

All of this reminds me of a childhood book If Everybody Did. Jo Ann Stover was a family friend and illustrated the book, which cajoled children to take responsibility for their actions, like turning off the tap instead of letting it drip. The consequences of not doing the right thing were magnified into an extreme illustration such as a house filled with water and everyone floating in it.

Beyond the Cup
Remember my friend Joy? Well, she had a restaurant experience that brought up a number of questions for those of us who would like to enjoy life but produce less garbage. (Waste, large carbon footprint’s evil twin.)

First, her main question: Why is it so hard to make the right choices?

Joy’s experience, from her computer to my blog:

“Most of the time I get the spring rolls to go and they put them in a plastic take-out box. Which I hate. But because the rice paper is sticky, it has to be in a box like that; they’d stick to a cardboard box. Today, I met a friend there for lunch and was going to eat in the cafe for the first time. I was so excited to not use that plastic take-out box! I asked for it “to stay” and they put my two enormous spring rolls on a cool old ceramic plate.

And alongside, the peanut sauce in a plastic cup. The hot sauce in a plastic cup. And a plastic spoon. And a plastic cup for water.

I was heartbroken, and even more so when it came time to leave and I still had half a roll to take with me. I realized I was going to have to get some kind of something to carry it out in. I couldn’t just pick up my roll and walk down the street with it. Can you imagine carrying half a sandwich down the street with you? Couldn’t wrap it in a napkin because of the sticky problem.

* sigh *

So I went to the counter and asked for a piece of plastic wrap so I could wrap my roll in it.

All of this is probably better than using that dumb plastic take-out box, but in the end did my choice really make a difference? I mean, other than by making my friend laugh at me?

I think that no matter how good our intentions are, if our culture isn’t on the same page, we’re going to hit the wall over and over again.”

See. This is why I think Seattle’s changed. 20 years ago no one would have laughed at Joy’s attempts to do the most sustainable thing possible.

I think people who would like to see a waste and plastic/cup/takeout container reduction need to go on the defensive. Only if the demand is diminished will production and use of takeout products diminish. We unwittingly create demand each time we accept a paper cup, takeout container, etc.

My reply to Joy’s question and how a person might go on the defensive:

1) Bring a reusable takeout container.
2) As we learned at Pegasus (and I had to learn the lesson a second time at BI Bakers!) we can’t assume anything and need to ask if they use porcelain, or any plastic.
3) Bring drink cups, utensils just in case.
4) Bring reusable plastic bags or something for used cutlery.

All of this means we’ll need to go shopping for a much bigger handbag – at a thrift store, naturally.

Ugh! It does feel like pushing a big rock up a hill. I agree. Until society catches up, one risks looking like a freak and holding up the line (two things that don’t bother me much, but the extra-large handbag might be the straw…).

Speaking of straws, I have a friend in NC that travels around with a silver straw (she likes straws) and eschews plastic straws. So there are a few of us out there cutting down on waste where we can in our own fabulous way.

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2 Responses to About that Cup o’ Joe…

  1. Debbie says:

    This is a great Eye opener! The Plastic world. On the other hand, A friend of mine was talking to me, watching me while I started to brush my teeth at the Gym and she turned off the water after I had wettened my brush. Suddenly I was aware of how many tons of water I waste brushing, piglet that I have been! Lately I have been keeping a small water pan to rinse off things in the sink, no running water there either! The older I become the quieter toward the world I become.

  2. Jane says:

    Debbie, thanks for reading. I think living conscientiously is the key. America as a whole lives pretty “high on the hog” as my Dad used to say. I think it’s hard to make/expect radical changes, so I’m looking for easy ways to make a positive enviro impact.