Coffee Cup Revolution


Last Thursday, I had an early morning flight to San Francisco. I left my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, without my morning coffee but remembered my reusable cup. (I’m patting my back right now, by the way.) The coffee shack at the airport told me if I used my cup the drip would cost me an extra buck. The explanation: “We would lose money if everybody brought their own cups.”


That’s not actually true. Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. In 2010, that will equal 23 billion paper coffee cups, or right around $13 million that independent coffee shops will spend on cups annually. Each cup may cost less than a tenth of a cent, but it all adds up.

Financially, it makes sense for coffee shops to encourage their customers to reuse cups. Environmentally, most paper cups end up in landfills, and it took 9.4 million carbon-sequestering trees to make all of this year’s cups. That’s a lot of waste.

Carbon dioxide levels are still rising despite the International Energy Agency’s prediction that the recession would lower industrial output and therefore drop the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 2.6 percent in 2009. Scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute reported a .54 parts per million increase in carbon dioxide during the first two weeks of March. What’s that mean? Mostly that the increase in carbon dioxide appears to be accelerating. The UN says to expect more floods, mudslides, heat waves, and higher sea levels as a result.

The data “seems to show that we continue to emit as if there was no tomorrow,” said Kim Holmen, the director of research at the Norwegian Polar Institute, according to Reuters.

I didn’t buy coffee from that shop because I’m cheap ($2.48 for a brewed coffee–what?!) but it ticked me off that I was being charged to do something good for the environment.

If you want to bypass coffee-cup waste issues, check out One Hundred 80 degrees’s Melamine mugs–they even look like regular paper cups! The extra plus is that most shops won’t charge you to use them.

–Kyle Dickman