Disposable cups are a daily fact of life for many in the western world. From the morning cup of coffee, to a break at the office water cooler, to a quick lunch or dinner out, our days can be filled with a procession of paper and plastic single use cups. Each cup is used once, or maybe twice, and then discarded. Some estimates put American disposable cup use at 58 billion annually. American office workers average 2-3 cups per day. Airline flights in the U.S. use 1 million disposable cups every six hours! Mostly unable to be recycled, these cups head straight for the local landfill. These numbers are staggering! Is it possible for a typical American to give up disposable cups? Are there reusable options for every occasion?
- Better for the Earth – disposable cups are very resource intensive to manufacture, are generally unable to be recycled, and end up in landfills
- Better for You – when you use your own cup, you tend to drink healthier liquids – like plain old water
- Saves Money – often drinks in disposable cups are purchased, while drinks in refillable cups are not (sit-down restaurants and bars are an exception to this, of course)
- Guilt free beverages for those of us who are environmentally attuned
- You have to carry a cup or water bottle everywhere you go
- You have to REMEMBER to carry a cup or water bottle everywhere you go (it took me a couple of thirsty weeks to get this part down)
- When trying to purchase a beverage with your refillable cup, it can take some explaining to get what you want
- You have to wash your cup
- Disposable cups are so prevalent and convenient, it’s hard to NOT use them sometimes
About a year ago the maintenance guys at work installed nifty reverse osmosis water filters. They give us fresh, tasty, clean water to drink all day long. As I started to drink more water throughout the day (WIN!) I realized I was tossing a lot of paper cups. I started using the same cup all day long, but knew I could do better. I picked up a cute 20 fl oz cup at Target for $2 and it became a permanent fixture on my desk.
As I’ve been working at my wanna-be-crunchy lifestyle, I’m always looking for small changes I can make to have less of a negative impact on the environment. “Ditching the Disposables” is one of them. I decided that I want to work on phasing out the disposables in my life, starting with cups. I decided to go hardcore and challenge myself to no disposable cups for a month to see how doable it was to completely ditch the cup habit.
- I couldn’t use disposable cups for anything, ever.
- If I forgot to bring a cup, I would have to go without.
- If I wanted a fountain beverage, or other beverage that typically comes in a disposable cup, I had to convince the vendor to serve me in the cup I brought.
- Single serving beverage containers like cans or bottles were okay only if I ensured they were recycled after use.
Overall the month of no disposable cups went pretty well. I was already using my cup at work for water, and brought in a mug from home for when I wanted hot tea. For going out I stashed a handled mug with a lid in my purse, and generally just filled it up with water. It took me a couple weeks to remember to always have it with me, however, so there were several times when I went thirsty while out at lunch.
The big win for the month was that I saved a total of 31 cups. (Actually a pretty low number, considering I’m an office worker, who also eats out a couple times a week). There was also a fun moment when I decided while out that I wanted to purchase a lemonade to go with my burger at a local place. Trying to explain what I wanted went something like this:Victoria: I’d like a lemonade, but can I have it in this cup (holding up cup from purse) Cashier: What? V: I’d like to have your lemonade in my cup. C: You still have to pay for it… V: Of course! I just don’t want to throw out a cup. C: Oh yeah! That’s a great idea! Thanks! V: Great! C: You’re total is.xxxx. (Hands me a paper cup). V: ?? No, I don’t need this. I’ll just use my cup. C: Right! Sorry – it’s automatic, I guess!
There were a couple fails too. In total, I ended up using 5 disposable cups during the month. One was at church where I always get a cup of water from the coffee station before the service. It so automatic that it wasn’t until the second Sunday of the month that I even realized I was doing it. Oooops! Another time, I was at a professional baseball game. It was a hot day, and I couldn’t skip the liquids. There were bottles of water, but no place to recycle them that i could find. So I opted for a paper cup that could be refilled with a flavored beverage as needed.
Early in the month I was at a baby shower, and they were serving drinks in beautiful plastic cups. It was another hot summer day, and I had forgotten my cup once again… I noticed, however, that the hostess was washing the cups and reusing them, so I thought maybe it didn’t count as a disposable after all… At the same time, I resolved myself to not let my cup ever leave my purse again!
Finally, on the lat day of the month, a dear friend at work saw me seriously dragging (1st trimester exhaustion) and brought me half her bottle of soda in a paper cup. I was so thankful for her kindness and that small amount of caffeine, that I took the cup without hesitation, and without comment. This crunchy living stuff is important to me, but people and relationships are more important!!
Overall, I found it quite doable to ditch the disposable cups. I had trouble at first remembering to bring a cup along with me, but once I made it a habit, I sailed through the rest of the month. It felt good to know I was not contributing more to the landfill problem. By the end of the month, I decided I needed one of those nifty water bottles everyone seems to be carrying around these days. If I make it a habit to carry a bottle of water with me, needing a drink with a disposable should never be a problem again!
Have you ever tried giving up disposable cups? Do you have any good water bottle recommendations for me?