Address the Mess: Disposable Coffee Cups

If you don’t recycle, I can hardly blame you; it’s a confusing and mysterious process about whose efficacy we’ve never been totally confident. Maybe China’s new National Sword policy is a good thing, in this case.

Back in 2017, China, the United States’ foremost investor in recyclable waste, declared that accepting roughly 45% of the world’s scrap was having a negative impact on their environment and the health of their people. So one year ago, for all intents and purposes, they stopped. This implied message of “Deal with your own trash” is the primary reason I eschewed my garbage cans this year, to see how it affected my practices in reducing, reusing, repurposing, and refusing products that generate landfill fodder (fodder which, from what I’ve been reading, has pretty much just been piling up in the last twelve months).

Now, for every piece of trash that crosses my path, I am forced to find a creative use for it or a safe way to dispose of it. Can it be repurposed? Can it be effectively composted? Can it be legally burned in my fire pit? Does the consumer market need a new product that speaks to our needs? Did I need to buy the product in the first place?

Coffee, for example, is a tremendous industry with a lot of single-use disposable products involved. When I buy a coffee (which I do a lot) I get a paper mug, a cardboard sleeve, a plastic lid, and sometimes a plastic straw – all that same old single-use landfill fodder. I’ve started making little charts like this in my head:

Paper MugBurnable; Sandcastle-making tool; Bring my own cup.
Cardboard SleeveBurnable; Slightly compostable if my compost is feeling wet; Stylish bracelet; Wear mittens instead; Knit a coffee cozy; Bring my own cup.
Plastic LidBring my own to-go cup.
Plastic StrawPolitely refuse in the future; Pocket-bassoon.

Some companies will offer a discount on your beverage if you bring your own cup to put it in, even coffee shops in the Deer Park area like The Pickett Fence on East Crawford St. They offer a stylish reusable tumbler in different sizes and colors, and your purchase is discounted whenever you use it. Lofty Skies on Main St. has “in-house” mugs for customers who are sipping in house, and they also offer a discount if you BYO receptacle. The Coffee Shop in Loon Lake is conscientiously using 100% biodegradable hot cups for their pours, so when you’re done you could potentially compost them.

I personally carry one or two tin mugs in my car, and have had my eye on the consumer market for a to-go mug that doesn’t leak, and can hook easily and fashionably to my bag. I like the insulated metal ones because they keep their temperature longer, don’t threaten to scald my barista, and don’t break. Someone validly commented that sanitation is a concern if you’re reusing the same “car-mug” over and over. Actually, most places will rinse your mug for you, even at a drive through window (they just can’t touch the lid for health code reasons). I also always carry a couple of handkerchiefs whenever I leave the house and sometimes use them as a quick mug wiper.

When you order at drive throughs, just let them know you have your own cup and how many ounces of beverage you’d like in it. Generally, baristas have been extremely supportive of and patient with my new practice.

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