Farewell to Paper Cups

I bought my first coffee to go back in the early two-thousands when I had a summer job in Stockholm. My apartment was conveniently located above a Seven Eleven and every morning before heading to work I would stock up on Cinnamon Buns and some mediocre tasting coffee. I was 18, did not even like coffee that much, but felt super glamorous and grown up, carrying a branded paper cup down the streets of Stockholm. After all, I had witnessed all those cool people in magazines and in films moving about the city with their coffee to go. In my adolescent naivety, I guess I really felt like I was living up to that ideal.

But, that was not the last time I carried a disposable cup filled with coffee around town. From a lifestyle choice, it turned into convenience and I have to admit that for a long time I did not even think about the effects my daily consumption of coffee to go would have on the environment. More than ten years later I was still be sharing pictures of paper or plastic cups from different cafés, in different cities, doing my part to feed the hype. You don’t have to scroll far in my Instagram feed to find the last picture of some delicious iced coffee, from a not so delicious plastic cup – it’s only 10 weeks old. While I kept vilifying the endless consumption of coffee capsules as environmentally irresponsible, my own behaviour was not much better.

Being lazy vs. the planet…

Deep down I think I knew that something was off with all this trash I kept producing, as there were attempts to cut down on my disposable cup consumption. I bought a Keep Cup and I did use it to carry my morning coffee from my Berlin apartment to the office on at least 20% of mornings – when I did have time to make coffee, did not leave the filled cup on the kitchen table or had not forgotten the cup in the office the day before. On the other 80% of the occasions, I would stop at a café and get my fix from a paper cup. It was just much more convenient and I was just a lazy ass. Yet, looking at the numbers surrounding disposable paper cups is just sickening:

Within one hour Germans throw away 320.000 coffee cups. In order to produce these cups, 6 trees, 6.300 grammes Oil and 192.000 litres of water are needed (Source: BR). As most cups are lined with polyethene, they cannot be recycled properly and end up as land-fill. And apparently also cups made from biodegradable materials do not perform better. Yet, every time you use a reusable cup, you will save 430 ml water, 0,1 kWh of energy and avoid 21g CO2 emissions (Source: Deutsche Umwelthilfe).

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Dismantling the last arguments for disposable cups

It’s so tedious to carry around that reusable cup – it always leaks into my bag.

Have you ever tried to put that disposable cup into your handbag? No. Finish your coffee before storing the reusable cup inside your bag. Keep a washable piece of cloth in your bag to put into the empty cup if you are still scared of leakage.

My coffee machine at home can’t compete with the one at the coffee shop.

Not everyone can or wants to afford an expensive fancy portafilter coffee machine or has a personal barista at home, but there are cheaper alternatives that make good coffee. If you want espresso or a cappuccino, get a Bialetti and a milk frother. I personally love filter coffee made with my good old Chemex Coffeemaker. The internet is full of tips and recommendations on how to make great coffee in all kinds of variations. Also, starting the day by brewing a fresh cup of coffee is actually really satisfying. If I could not convince you concerning home-made coffee, go get a reusable cup or take some minutes to enjoy your coffee at the coffee shop!

I have no time to drink the coffee at the café / at home.

Take a break! Consuming a cup of coffee takes only a bunch of minutes, I am sure you can find time for that. Also, a coffee break is perfect to let your mind wander and take a minute off from your everyday. And if you are really that busy, get a reusable cup that you fill at home, the office or at the café.

They won’t fill my reusable cup at the café.

This is really stupid, stop going there.

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Dear coffee shops,

Disposable cups are great for branding, I get that. They are also convenient. So convenient that you sometimes even serve coffee in paper cups to your staying customers. But it’s also up to you to reconsider your choices. Take part in projects like Refill It or Just Swap It, stock reusable cups or just motivate your customers to have their coffee to stay and serve it to them in a proper porcelain cup. They will appreciate it.

What’s next?

I will stop buying coffee in disposable cups. Instead, I will bring my own reusable cup or just have the coffee to stay. Consequently, I will stop promoting the usage of paper or plastic cups through my social feeds. I know that our consumption of paper cups is just the tip of the iceberg, but I strongly believe it’s one step against wastefulness and a really easy one. I believe that you don’t have to go zero waste in order to change at least something. There are some lifestyle choices we can reconsider without completely turning our lives upside down. Giving up on coffee to go from disposable cups is just one of them. Let’s do this!

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  • Ich trinke Kaffee immer zuhause, aber alle 2 Wochen, wenn ich morgens am HHer HBF aufschlage, gehe ich zu Starbucks und kaufe den elenden to go Kaffee. aber: letzte Woche noch gedacht: ich muss meinen Keep Cup reaktivieren. Und siehe da: es gibt bei Starbucks sogar grade 30ct off, wenn man eigenen Becher mitbringt. was bei den Preisen sogar ein sehr netter Nebeneffekt des guten Gewissens ist. Danke für’s Erinnern!