This piece was written by Paula Soto. As a fourth-year environmental science student, I’ve always been passionate about protecting the environment. I hope, by writing these blog posts, I will be able to spread more awareness on current environmental issues and provide new ideas in making positive environmental impacts on people’s everyday lives. After reading about so much that needs to be done in the classroom, it feels great to be able to make a difference by informing others.
Roll up the rim just ended last month, and I didn't win any free donuts or coffees. A fact which I’m ok with if it means millions of coffee cups can be diverted from being put into landfills this year. The average coffee cup is used for 10 to 15 minutes, after which it spends ~500 years in a landfill. Considering an astounding 1.6 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown out each year in Canada alone, this is tremendous.
Therefore, rather than adding to the mountains of garbage in landfills, we can start making changes to avoid these costs to the environment. By remembering to bring a travel mug every time you stop at a café, you’re not only diverting a piece of garbage into a landfill but you’re also saving trees, water, and energy in its production. You will also be saving money because most businesses including those such as Tim Hortons, and Starbucks offer incentives such as 10 cents off your drink if you bring your own cup in. And if next time you’re going to go study or meet a friend at a coffee shop and you realize despite your best efforts you’ve forgotten your travel mug, there are other alternatives. Most coffee shops also offer their own ceramic mugs you can use if you’re planning to consume in store. As CBC’s Marketplace pointed out, they’re rarely offered up front but they do have them readily available for consumers.
And while carrying these disposable white cups, in many ways, has become a sign of status. With a shift in people’s mindset, we could easily change over. Take for example the mug-sharing project UBC undertook in 2012, and many other places have also started. Similar to bike sharing you can pick up your coffee and travel mug at one place, and drop it off for cleaning at another. Imagine if every store did this. You’d never have to go more than a couple blocks to deposit your used cup. Change is possible if we continue to move forward with it.
However, change doesn’t happen overnight. If you do forget your travel mug and buy a disposable one, in most places in the world, in fact even in most places in Canada, coffee cups are non-recyclable. Therefore they would usually just end up straight in the trash. However, the city of Vancouver as of 2016 does allow these cups to be put into recycling bins. As a result, it’s important to ensure we’re putting each piece of the cup, including the sleeve, lid, and cup into their appropriate bins. At SFU, this means cardboard sleeves can go into the yellow mixed paper bin, lids, if have a plastic number from 1-5, are recyclable, and at SFU the coffee cups are accepted into the food scraps and compostable bin.
While new habits such as remembering to bring a travel mug with you take time, simply being aware of the issues and the potential solutions related to them is the first step. Start a conversation with others, and if you feel you have a viable potential solution for the disposable cup conundrum formulate an idea. In September there will be a public input Talk Vancouver survey which will be accepting ideas for what can be done to conquer this issue. This is part of the city’s plan to become a zero waste city through its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Take action and make changes one coffee at a time.