'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

via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading

Childbirth is the number one reason American women visit the hospital, and it ain't cheap. In fact, it's getting more and more expensive. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the cost of having a baby with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by almost 50% in the past seven years.

The study evaluated "trends in cost-sharing for maternity care for women with employer-based health insurance plans, before and after the Affordable Care Act," which was signed into law in 2010. The study looked at over 657,061 women enrolled in large employer-sponsored health insurance plans who delivered babies between 2008 and 2015, as these plans tend to cover more than plans purchased by small businesses or individuals.

Keep Reading

A meteorite crashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. The meteor was 1.2 miles wide, and the impact was so big, it covered 10% of the planet with debris. However, scientists haven't been able to find the impact site for over a century. That is, until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal believes the crash site has been located.

Tektites, which are essentially rocks that have been liquefied from the heat of the impact and then cooled to form glass, help scientists spot the original impact site of a meteor. Upon impact, melted material is thrown into the atmosphere, then falls back to the ground. Even if the original crater has disappeared due to erosion or is hidden by a shift in tectonic plates, tektites give the spot away. Tektites between 750,000 to 35.5 million years old have been found in every continent except Antarctica.

Keep Reading