I’ve calmed down on the cheese front. After having a slight tantrum over how all of my favourite food is wrapped in plastic, I have set my sights to something I wouldn’t even describe as a food. It’s more like oxygen, or gravity, a necessary force for life. I’m talking about coffee. I’ve had a strong relationship with coffee for well over a decade. Unfortunately, I’ve had a relationship with disposable to go cups for almost as long. I went two years in university without using any to go cups. I was pretty proud of that. Then I fell off the wagon and started grabbing a coffee when I was out walking my dog in the mornings. Then I started using to go cups when I was getting tea, because I didn’t like the way both the coffee and tea flavours would sit in my travel mug. Then I started using to go cups if I was treating myself to a flavoured latte for the same reason. Then I started using those silly clear plastic cups to get iced Americanos because I had graduated university and thought I had money for treats. Then I started writing this blog post and realized how much money I spend on coffee. This plastic audit is turning into a financial audit. This is embarrasing. Let’s get back to the plastic.
That’s a lot of plastic. I wouldn’t get coffee if the cup was styrofoam, as I knew that stuff was terrible for the environment. However, even your basic to go cup often has a plastic liner between the two layers of cardboard to keep coffee from saturating the paper and causing a terrible mess. You also have those shiny plastic lids to deal with. Even a nice looking paper cup has a significant plastic content, and isn’t necessarily much better than styrofoam. If you are sitting there, dear reader, and enjoying a delicious coffee beverage out of paper cup, don’t worry. There’s a million and one funny, stylish, or utilitarian travel mugs in the world.
I’ve had a lot of coffee mugs in my life. I’m a notorious loser. I mean, I lose stuff. Well, both I guess, but I would inevitably lose my mugs. Sometimes they would come back down the road, and sometimes they were gone forever. Sometimes I managed to lose just the lid. I have no idea how that happens. I currently have an excellent travel mug, with a spill proof lid. I would know. I spill everything. It’s so good I feel comfortable having it right beside my work computer, including when my boss is around. I’ve had this little champion for about two months. The biggest challenge going forward won’t be avoiding returning to my to go cup using ways, this mug keeps my coffee way hotter longer, it will be to not lose this magnificent godsend. It’s also the reason I currently have 0 to go cups in my plastic stash.
On thing that this project has brought up for me is to think about the cumulative use of single use plastic over the course of a lifetime. Like many kids in my generation I got juiceboxes pretty regularly in my lunch kit. In addition to the tetrapak (stay tuned, I’ve got lots to say about tetrapaks in their own post) I used a childhood’s worth of little plastic juicebox straws, individually wrapped in little plastic sleeves. I have three siblings, all of us getting those juiceboxes. All of those straws are still in existence, and that’s just one family. My mind was boggled in terms of to go cups. Many were used just because I didn’t like how the vanilla flavour from a latte would linger in the lid of my travel mug for a couple of washes.
For the past five years I have probably used 4 to go cups a week. This is totally a guess, but it seems pretty right. Sometimes I would use them more frequently, and sometimes not at all. I’m going to guess 4, because it’s a good number. It’s also likely a bit conservative, I may well have used more.
If I’ve used 4 to go cups a week, in a single year that is 208 cups. In the past five years that is 1040 cups. Over a thousand coffee cups used for maybe half an hour each. Those cups would either be lined with wax or have a plastic barrier. Plastic is most likely, it’s inexpensive and doesn’t degrade over time. So over 1000 plastic liners hanging around forever. Forever ever? Forever. That’s also over 1000 plastic lids. Each of those little lids weighs about 3 grams.
So 3120 grams of plastic just in the lids alone, or a little north of 3 kilograms. That’s a lot.
That could potentially be a lot to feel guilty about. The cups are used, and there’s no use crying over used coffee cup. Stopping to do some math is a staggering wakeup call on how something like the garbage from my morning Americano, happily consumed while walking the dog, accumulates. I had a great route where I could oh so responsibly dispose of them partway along my walk, never littering. Unfortunately, the garbage can is just the layover between use and either the landfill or the ocean.
So, dear reader, what the heck? Do I just feel guilty about my to go cup history? Nahhhh. Math works both ways. If I keep my amazing coffee mug in use it keeps to go cups out of commission. Let’s say I want to take a coffee with me to work everyday until I retire. That’s most likely a good 38 years. I can’t buy lottery tickets anymore because they are all plasticized, so let’s say 38 years. If I had continued on the trajectory of using 4 to go cups per week that is:
208 cups per year
2080 cups per decade
7094 cups for the rest of my working life.
That brings the total plastic weight of just the lids to 21 282 grams of plastic. That’s 21.282 kg of plastic hanging over my head that I don’t have to worry about. Now I can sleep at night. Let’s say I lose one mug every 5 years (miracles happen right), that’s 7.2 mugs. The mugs’ plastic lids would still be in existence, but certainly not 21 kg worth. My current travel mug’s lid is just north of 200 grams. If I keep the same style of mug, and that’s pretty likely as I’m literally spill proof over here, I would be responsible for about 1.52 kg of lost plastic lids. I’m not great at math, but my calculator is, and that’s about 19.76 kg less. That’s about 40 lbs, or one third of my bodyweight, worth of plastic lids. If I lose a cup every 2 years, which still a miracle but more likely, I’m looking at 3.8 kg of lost lids, or 17.492 kg less plastic than to continue my to go habit. I’m not going to stop drinking coffee. I probably am not going to use the same coffee mug for almost 40 years. 17.492 Kg less plastic sounds like a pretty good reduction to me.
I’m in. I’m also making coffee at home most morning, so that’s a good financial savings too. My plastic audit and financial reflections go hand in hand. I’m going to divert a lot of waste, and save many dollars, for the next 38 years.
If anyone wants to know what I want for christmas over the next 38 years, it’s one of these. That way I can turn any one of my mason jars, for some reason so much harder to lose than coffee mugs, into a travel mug.