Here's how to beat your, ahem, coffee cup addiction
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
You may have asked yourself if you’re addicted to coffee, but have you ever considered you might be addicted to your coffee cup!?
Australians discard one billion disposable coffee cups every year. As a society, we are addicted to single-use cups.
The great irony about all of this - disposable cups are made from recyclable materials, paper and a thin plastic lining, but most recycling systems can’t separate these mixed materials. That cup that you use for five minutes, ends up in landfill. The problem is doubled when - and I see this every day - people throw their cup and lid away together, and that polypropylene plastic lid, which is recyclable, joins the landfill.
Cups and lids that are abandoned in the park to be swept into our drains and waterways can become a major pollution problem and are lethal to animals; floating plastic remnants are accidentally eaten by marine creatures like turtles and whales, which are commonly found dead from starvation with stomachs full of plastic (here's how you can help).
Why we need to quit single-use
We know we must use less plastic, as evidence shows its devastation to marine life, but we must also consciously produce and use less single-use items, be they derived from wood, cardboard, compostable or other materials. This will reduce the energy costs and emissions of the products we use, and we begin to minimise our carbon footprint.
Think about the lifecycle of a disposable cup. A lot of resources and energy have gone into producing a product with an end-use time of less than five minutes. Doesn’t that seem absurd? As the materials in the item aren’t repurposed, their value and energy input is lost forever, making the whole process wasteful, pollutive, and overall unsustainable.
The production and transportation of single-use cups relies on fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that the production of every 10 paper cups results in approximately one kilogram of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s even thought that cups emit methane, the same as rotting food, when decomposing. Carbon dioxide and methane are the top two culprits driving global temperature rise, which is having detrimental effects on our oceans, such as bleaching the Great Barrier Reef.
Image © The Ocean Agency, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Richard Vevers
While compostable cups might sound lovely because they're derived from plant materials rather than fossil fuelled plastic, they're becoming prolific in cafes around Australia, are still thrown in the bin, and are not composted on the commercial scale that they were designed for. We are simply replacing one single-use problem with another.
It’s time that we as consumers, and our café culture, all together embrace more socially and environmentally responsible habits.
I’m not telling you to give up your morning takeaway coffee ritual (although making your own drink at home is definitely the best way to reduce your impact and your spending!). It’s very hard to go cold-turkey on any addiction. So I suggest creating a new healthier habit to replace the old one.
New habit #1
Own a reusable cup. Befriend it, take it everywhere you go - your car, your bag, have a spare one on your desk at work - you will have soon established a new habit of taking your cup with you when you go to buy your coffee.
According to this Life Cycle Assessment of reusable and single-use coffee cups, it’s more environmentally friendly to serve drinks in reusable cup than in single-use paper or plastic cup.
New habit #2
Take a five minute break out of your day and sit in to have your coffee.
New habit #3
If you are on the run and a disposable cup can’t be avoided, ‘go topless’ by refusing a lid. Wash and bring your reusable lid from last time, or, if you have your own reusable cup nearby, simply decant your drink into it!
If we consider that our habits, consumption, manufacturing systems and our ecosystems are all interrelated - we see how important it is to create new daily habits: #RefuseSingleUse.
At the time of writing this, Queensland Health’s latest health direction states that reusable cups aren’t permitted in hospitality establishments. This is unfortunate, but I still encourage you to ask your cafe if they can do a ‘contactless pour’: this is where the customer puts their cup on the counter, the barista pours the coffee shot in, the milk, and allows the customer to place their own lid.