GOOD

'Greening' the Disposable Coffee Cup: The Value of Simple Fixes

No matter how sustainable options are out there, there’s little chance the number of disposable cups sold will dwindle to zero.


If you’re in the market for a reusable coffee mug, the MoMA Store has a couple of clever options. There’s the New York Coffee Cup, a ceramic version of the classic Grecian-lettered “We Are Happy to Serve You” paper cup. There’s the I Am Not a Paper Cup, which looks just like the tall, generic one available everywhere, but made of double-walled porcelain.

It’s not necessary to own a reusable mug that pokes fun at its paper rivals: Touting around any reusable mug is a responsible, sustainable choice. But the majority of people don't do it, and many never will. And even the most environmentally minded people sometimes leave their reusable cups at home and still want to buy a cup of coffee. In other words, there’s a limit to the impact personal choices can have. No matter how sustainable options are out there, there’s little chance the number of disposable cups sold will dwindle to zero.


That’s where innovation can come in: Good design can minimize the impact of even the most irresponsible individual actors, the people who will never carry around reusable coffee mugs. In that vein, The Boston Globe reports that an architect named Peter Herman has figured out how to rid coffee cups of their plastic lids. Herman's Compleat cup has a lid built in—two paper flaps that fold over the cup’s open mouth. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but a tweak to a technology that’s been around forever. Nor is it an environmental transformation; the flaps will use paper resources. But these cups would be greener than the ones available now, and individual consumers wouldn't have to actively choose to use them. If a business like Starbucks adopted this technology, every one of its customers would start living a slightly greener lifestyle.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the lid doesn’t make paper cups uber-sustainable. Compleat cups are still coated with polyethelene, according to the Globe, a coating that prevents the cup from turning into a mushy mess, but also prevents it from being recycled. The coating also releases methane, a greenhouse gas, as it decomposes in landfills.

But some of the biggest beverage companies in the world are working on solving those problems. Compostable cups sealed with a corn-based coating already exist. Starbucks has organized a series of “cup summits” that bring fast-food behemoths, paper producers and waste processors together to brainstorm better cup technologies. Mindy Lubber, president of the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, reported from the most recent summit that the technology to recycle coated cups exists already. She also discovered that if Starbucks recycled all 4 billion of the paper cups it uses each year into napkins, it would add less than four days worth of production at the company’s napkin factory.

Everyone knows its environmentally friendly to carry a reusable coffee cup, but it’s less common to hear how we should be carrying around cloth napkins too. Making a real difference in how much waste is produced requires not just green guilt trips, but innovative tweaks to products—like coffee lids, paper napkins, and coffee cups' coating—that most people just don’t think about. Sometimes the simple fixes have the greatest value.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user ethanhickerson

Articles
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics