Now that we’ve looked at the problems of “disposable” coffee cups, and taken a perhaps too exhaustive look at the ways to make coffee at home, let’s look at some simple solutions for when you are outside of the home. While there are a few options here, the bottom line is to try to think ahead in order to not “need” to take a cup while you are out on the road.
In other words: Bring your own.
Before we get into specific solutions, the one thing you need to do is just say no. Like plastic bags, plastic water bottles, and so many other things, you need to tell yourself that you will never take another “disposable” coffee cup again and then stick to it. Trust me, if you’re an addict, this method won’t take long to change your habits. What I did for a while when I forgot my cup (before I was home brewing) was to buy a reusable mug for someone in the store and give it to them in exchange for being able to use their cup. This wasted my money, helped get them off the cup train (I’d ask first of course) and allowed me to drink my cup while steaming that I’d forgotten my mug. Trust me, do that once or twice and it won’t take long.
The first and most likely logical solution to “disposables” is to grab a mug from home and take it with you. This has the benefit of being something that most of us already have (you don’t need to buy anything new thereby staying out of the production stream) and is a sturdy reusable alternative to having to throw away a cup every time you want some java–not to mention the plastic top and cardboard cozy. You can use it at the store and then again in the office, and it has the added benefit of letting your coworkers learn something about yourself. “Wow, didn’t realize that Jim breaks for unicorns. Who knew?”
The downside to a porcelain mug of course is that they can spill easily, break somewhat easily, and need to be rinsed and dried before you toss it in your bag. Not truly the worst things to have to deal with in the world, but worth considering nonetheless. I should also throw out there that if you are a coffee drinker who doesn’t own a porcelain mug (do these people exist?) rather than buying a new mug, head to a local thrift store and pick yourself out something quirky, perhaps a mug with a fat cat on the side. Ceramic mugs take a significant amount of energy to be made and you’ll need to use a new mug 46 times before you make up the energy that would go into the same amount of paper cups , so as usual, used is the way to go.
Next up, and my personal favorite is the stainless steel thermos. While you can get these used, they are a bit harder to find so new may be the best bet for many of you. For starters, make sure to get one with a really good seal that is well made. No use in cheaping out and replacing it every year. I use a Contigo mug (I am not endorsing them just sharing one that works) and am going on three years with it. It’s dented beyond belief and still works great.
I like a thermos for the following reasons. First off, they close so well that you can roll them off a cliff and no coffee will spill (this is something I like to do often so it comes in handy). Secondly, the coffee stays warm longer (it takes a while to walk to the bottom of the cliff). And thirdly, they are essentially free!
Huh, free you ask? Well, yes, but keep in mind I said essentially. The thermos I have cost me about $15. I get 10 cents back every time I use it at the store so it will actually pay for itself in just 150 visits. If you are a coffee drinker and buy yours at one of the chains everyday, that’s about half a year and you’ve paid for your stainless flask. And then, for the next 5-10 years if you are lucky, you are actually MAKING money. How cool is that?
While the energy that it takes to make a stainless steel thermos is much greater than that used to make a ceramic mug, it’ll still use less than disposables in the long run. It may take a year or so, 369 uses to be exact, but if you’re a coffee fiend like me, that number will make you laugh.
I’m sure there are other ideas I have not thought of (giving up coffee? nah) but these two are simple, economical (you’ll get 10 cents back from the ceramic mug as well by the way) and not too tough to start doing. You’ll save resources, save money, and help make a statement that you’re not going to be a part of the coffee cup waste train anymore.
So how about it? If you are drinking a “disposable” while reading this, what say you make it your last?