The Real Deal on the Reusable Mug and its Environmental Impact

How many times do you have to use a shiny new stainless steel coffee mug before it's better for the environment than takeout styrofoam cups from...

How many times do you have to use a shiny new stainless steel coffee mug before it's better for the environment than takeout styrofoam cups from a local coffeeshop? Maybe as much as every day for over a year, depending on a variety of things, like whether you're washing your mug with an ultra-efficient new dishwasher or by hand. Stainless steel takes quite a bit of energy to produce, and heating up water to wash it after every use also takes energy. Are the mugs bad for the environment? Not exactly. But if you don't drink that much coffee, or if you end up forgetting your mug at home, that reusable mug could actually be as harmful as a disposable cup.

Forgot your mug? Don't buy another one—ask for your coffee to stay. Most coffeeshops have a stash of ceramic mugs ready, but they just assume you'll want a disposable cup. (Bonus: you get a good excuse to sit and enjoy your drink, rather than immediately running to whatever's next on your agenda). Companies and schools might want to reconsider buying travel mugs as eco-friendly swag, since most people already have one, and any extras aren't really that green.

If you do drink a lot of coffee or tea on the run, design yourself a reminder to bring your mug along, whether that's a post-it note on your door or an alarm on your phone. Travel mugs can make a difference, helping fight the 16 billion paper coffee cups, and 25 billion styrofoam cups, that are used each year. But they're only helpful if they make it out of the cupboard.

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Reduce Your Waste, Starting With a Reusable Cup. Follow along and join the conversation at and on Twitter at #goodcitizen

Original travel mug image via Shutterstock.

Julian Meehan

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