The Take Away Coffee Habit

There’s been a lot of talk about fighting climate change over the past couple of years, about how governments and companies should change the world. But how can we, employees, help make it happen? 

One extremely polluting habit people seem to have acquired in recent years is buying a coffee on the way to work, in a single-use coffee cup (usually made of paper and plastic, and sometimes foam). According to an article by the BBC(1), the UK alone throws away approx. 2.5 billion coffee cups every year. 

Do you know which raw materials are used to make these coffee cups? And the health problems they could generate? And how much energy is necessary to produce them? Oh, and how long does it take for these cups to decompose…? 

According to an article in the Boston Globe(2), here are some facts about disposable coffee cups: 

RAW MATERIALS

Foam: polystyrene is derived from petroleum and natural gas by-products; 4,748 gallons of water are used to make 10,000 foam cups.

Paper: twenty million trees (a renewable resource) are cut down annually to manufacture paper cups, most of which are coated with a fossil fuel-derived plastic called polyethylene. The paper industry uses chemicals, including chlorine dioxide, potentially harmful if it leaves a factory in waste water. Moreover, 8,095 gallons of water are used to make 10,000 paper cups with sleeves.

HEALTH

Foam: Toxic chemicals, including benzene, leach out of polystyrene containers into the food or drink inside them, especially when heated in a microwave.

Paper: There are no known health risks from paper cups.

MANUFACTURING (not mentioning here the energy spent to manufacture and transport)

Foam: The manufacture of 10,000 polystyrene cups generates about 680 pounds (about 308 kg) of greenhouse gas emissions; that’s equivalent to emissions from 34.5 gallons of gas.

Paper: For paper cups, it’s 500 pounds of GHG (about 227 kg), or 25.5 gallons of gas, but when you add a sleeve (that cup holder for hot drinks), the emissions exceed those for polystyrene.

DISPOSAL

Foam: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene foam product to decompose in a landfill, and 50 years in a marine environment (where it can cause serious harm to animals).

Paper: A paper cup takes more than 20 years to decompose in a sealed landfill and a few days in a lake or the ocean. Paper cups, even polyethylene-coated ones, are easier to recycle than foam ones.

BIODEGRADABLE AND COMPOSTABLE COFFEE CUPS

Luckily, we have started to see a few options of biodegradable and compostable (which are two different things!) coffee cups being served at cafes here and there. They are indeed better options compared to those mentioned above. You can now find coffee cups made from corn, gourds (a fruit in the pumpkin family), and other different natural and sustainable resources. It does make you feel better when you take away a coffee in one of these greener options. But, does it solve the waste problem we face nowadays?      

Going to a nice cafe and buying a “takeaway coffee” has become a damaging trend in many countries, and we have to do something about it. Here are two options: either drink your coffee at the cafe or bring your own reusable mug with you. 

Bringing my reusable coffee mug with me has become part of my daily routine (before leaving home, I take my handbag, my phone, my glasses…. and my coffee mug!). 

So, bring your coffee mug along, let’s change this habit and help Luxembourg become a greener country!

A Beautiful Green proposes clear and achievable environmental changes to organisations in Luxembourg leading to effective sustainable development, cost reductions and increased awareness amongst employees. 

Contact us today to find out how we can assist you on this journey!

1 https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36882799

2 https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/04/02/why-paper-cups-just-aren-greener/W3TIBJ9dff8INlumPQvHSI/story.html

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