Wake up and smell the coffee: it's time to carry a reusable cup

We throw away mountains of disposable cups every year. It's time to address our ineptitude and carry a cup with us

We have a lot of green blind spots – moments where acute cognitive dissonance consolidates rather than changing a rather unsustainable behaviour. Of course we all care about waste, but convenience conquers all when push comes to shove. The vast towering mountain of disposable coffee cups is a case in point.

After all, the alternatives are not exactly harrowing. Why not plonk your overworked behind on a chair for 15 happy minutes and enjoy the privilege of your pricey hot beverage? Why not sip it from a rather more sophisticated china rim as opposed to sucking it toddler-like through a slit in a plastic lid (stay classy, Seattle).

Or use a reusable cup perhaps? Apparently the ability to rinse, reuse and remember to carry these with us has so far been beyond the realms of convenient reality. It's much like the way our desperate and urgent need for rehydration demands instant access to disposable plastic bottled water. How strange this must look to desert dwelling peoples! If we’re so terrified of daily dessication, can’t we carry a reusable flask? It would appear not, and so we wretchedly resign ourselves to the status quo, and the cups and bottles pile up around us.

But is this really the best we can do? Even during the most solipsistic, hedonistic occasion of a summer festival, traditionally carpeted with a crunchy shagpile of can and cup debris, pioneers such as Shambala have already gone entirely plastic bottle free, introduced reusable cups and are striving for genuine "zero waste to landfill" status. If you can get several thousand addled punters to reuse cups and bring their own water bottles in a damp English field it can’t beyond the ken of more urban types to do the same. There was also a move to do this at Glastonbury this year.

Ultimately, we are fallible and forgetful, so the best way to solve the problem is as always choice-editing or design this inconvenience out. Not got your reusable shopping bag on you, or have popped to the shop spontaneously? I recently bought a jacket from Guild of Labour that has a canvas shopper buttoned neatly onto the lining. A beautifully simple and literal no-brainer solution.

Maybe we need a reusable cup holster, like a tool-belt, for the urban caffeine addict? It could hold a stunningly designed, unique and characterful reusable cup, like the mobile phone cases we use to stop us smashing our digital pride and joys. Or we might innovate the business model itself, and incentivise reusable "deposit" cups that coffee shops wash themselves. We could introduce a standard cup shared across different coffee companies, or significant discounts (really significant not token) for those using reusable cups – after all the cup can cost twice as much as the coffee in it.

As always, the solutions are out there to eliminate this monstrous pile of pointless and avoidable waste. Either we have to get a bit more festival-like in our attitudes and behaviours or we have to have our own ineptitude designed away from us. Or both. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. And not through that awful slit.

Been meaning to buy a reusable coffee cup? We've tried them out for you.

Ed Gillespie is author of 'Only Planet - a flight-free adventure around the world' and Co-Founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications

Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month's Live Better challenge here.

The Live Better Challenge is funded by Unilever; its focus is sustainable living. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.


Ed Gillespie

The GuardianTramp

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