Today’s post is the first in a series of guest posts that we will be publishing over the next few months from Nathalie Heyden. Nathalie Heyden is a student at the University of Waterloo, who is currently completing a co-op placement here with our team. Nathalie will be writing about sustainability, waste & recycling, compost & so much more. We invite you to read along and follow her on this exciting journey with our team.
For many of us, coffee is our life-line during the workweek (who are we kidding? On weekends as well!) Some of us might even say that the day has not begun until we have had that first cup of java. While waiting in-line or staring at the household coffeepot, have you ever considered how your caffeine addiction is contributing to landfills? Canadians are estimated to use between 1.6 and 2 billion disposable coffee cups each year, but where do all of these cups go?
Are Paper Coffee Cups Recyclable?
The big question that has many of us confused: they are paper after all? Are they not? Many people believe that disposable coffee cups are recyclable, but this is not the case in most Canadian municipalities. The plastic lining of the paper cup presents complications, as these cups cannot be recycled with the regular paper stream. Furthermore, the coffee residue left unrinsed at the bottom of your disposed cup is considered contamination and will not be recycled. Many municipalities that previously had the infrastructure to recycle these cups are beginning to move away from it, as it is no longer profitable. So why do we not bring our own reusable mugs?
Will They Accept My Mug?
Most chain coffee shops nowadays will accept your reusable mug. I did not realize how few people actually brought their own mug to refill at a chain coffee shop until I worked at one. During a four-hour shift, only a handful of people would come prepared with their own mug. Even the regulars, some who would come more than once daily, would not bring their own mug. If you are worried that your mug will be rejected because it is the wrong size, it is not a mug bought from the chain itself, or that it will not be accepted because there is some residue from your previous drink in the bottom… Think again. The size does not matter (unless it is too small for you order), the brand of your mug does not matter, the employee will not mind if there is residue left over (but if you do, you can ask and the employees will most often rinse out your cup before topping it off with more coffee).
With this being said, some chain coffee shops will not accept your reusable mugs in the drive-through. As a mindful consumer, you can call a location in advance and speak with their manager to ask about their policy with reusable mugs in the drive-through. If they do not accept reusable mugs, you can choose to avoid the drive-through altogether (a responsible choice that also reduces your carbon emissions).
I rarely buy take-out coffee. Why would I invest in a mug?
Maybe you are not an avid coffee drinker. Now, presumably you only treat yourself to one take-out coffee (or other hot drink) each week. That does not seem too bad, right? If we break it down, there are 52 weeks in a year… That is 52 coffee cups being sent to landfill. Now let us calculate that for our office. If all 13 of us at MASS were to buy coffee once a week, we would be creating 676 cups a year! If sustainability is not motivation enough, most coffee-chains will discount 10 cents each time you bring your own mug. Saving a dime does not seem like much, but our office would save $67.60 if we all brought our own mug once a week for a year.
What to look for in a coffee mug …
My best suggestion, is to find a mug that is big enough for the largest size you will order and one that can be used for both hot and cold drinks, this way you are always prepared whether you want a latte or a smoothie. What I look for in a mug is one that is durable. I use a metal insulated mug with a lid that fully seals. This way, my coffee stays hot for much longer than it would in a paper cup (and cooler than it would in a plastic cup). Additionally, if I knock it over it does not spill (we all know someone who has destroyed their laptop/important files with coffee).
One of my favourite mugs is made by the company Contigo. They produce metal insulated cups with lids that seal and lock.
If you are someone that does not have the space for a mug, another fun option is one that can collapse. These mugs are both reusable and portable, as they will collapse and fit into your already too-full purse. The company Stojo sells a popular line of such mugs.
Take things to the next level…
Another thing I discovered working for a chain coffee-shop was how much milk we would go through: and how many plastic milk bags were wasted in the process. To limit your waste, order your coffee black, or try an alternative such as soy milk or coconut milk that come in cartons rather than film plastic. Film plastic is another perceived “recyclable” that is sent to landfill along with your disposable coffee cups.
What choices are you making to reduce your environmental footprint through waste? Coffee is the fuel that keeps so many of us going throughout the day. Changing the way we enjoy it can really make a difference!