Use a Refillable Mug

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The EPA estimates that nearly 25 billion one use paper and Styrofoam cups are thrown away by Americans for drinks purchased at commercial establishments or drunk in the office.  The sad truth is that nearly every one of these temporary vessels ends up in landfills or clogging our waterways.  It’s a very troubling statistic because polystyrene literally takes hundreds of years to break down, and is made of petroleum, which is nonrenewable.  Scientists have also recently discovered that carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds leach out of polystyrene, right into your hot drink.

That’s not to say that the ceramic doesn’t have its own set of flaws.  The energy invested to make one ceramic cup means you’d have to use the ceramic cup 640 times before it would equal a single polystyrene cup and 294 times to equal a paper/cardboard one.  Factoring in the cost in air pollution, it takes 1,800 uses to beat the polystyrene and 48 to beat paper or cardboard.  Additionally, you would have to drink 126 and 99 cups respectively for the ceramic to compete with them on the waste issue.  And just the use of a ceramic cup totals more than the entire life cycle water consumption of the other two kinds.  Grim statistics, indeed.  But fortunately like a like a good book or movie, there is always a twist at the end.

In this case, the ceramic cup is the “good guy” and actually wins hands down in the functional use category.  Designed to have a long and durable life it can be used for well over 3,000 drinks before it might need replacing.  The other types of cups are intended for just a single use, meaning that their lightweight, non-durable, disposable construction can perform well, measured against the other environmental criteria.  This was all worked out using a method called Life Cycle Assessment/Analysis (LCA).  It tracks the full life of a product or service from its inception to the end of its useful life.

To combat this problem, there are several methods that a consumer can employ to reduce the waste caused by this consumption.  For example, where ever possible, only purchase cold drinks that are sold in recyclable glass or plastic containers.  As soon as the beverage is consumed, the bottle may be safely recycled.  Try to avoid using the one-use cups whenever you purchase beverages from coffee shops and university food services.  It’s smarter to use ceramic or glass containers for your tea and coffee, because plastics can leach out small amounts of potentially toxic chemicals over time, particularly pthalates and bisphenol A.  If you feel that the potential for breakage is high where you work and for on-the-go uses, consider using stainless steel, instead.  An added incentive is that many coffee shops and university food services offer discounts for consumers who bring in their own reusable containers.  Starbucks, for example, offers a 10-cent discount to those who bring in their own mugs, and this encouraged 13.5 million customers to help keep 586,800 pounds of paper from landfills in 2003.

To reduce waste, stop the use of Styrofoam or paper cups.  Encourage the use of refillable mugs—anything that you can rinse and reuse a million times.  Just get a mug that suits you, and use it.  Be sure to keep a few extras at the office that you can use for visitors.  You can probably find useful cups at places like discount stores, or even use “recycled” items that you find at thrift stores or garage sales.  It’s not rocket science to think about how much waste you’ll be keeping out of the landfill with this single, simple act.

Related posts:

  1. Plastic Containers Helpful Buyers Guide
  2. Recycling Styrofoam
  3. Save the Planet by Switching Pens
  4. Go Green with Your Java Bean
  5. Green Up Your Morning Routine
  6. Eco-Friendly Printing and Office Tips

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