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Reusable vs. Disposable Cups

Okay, I admit it: I’m not going to shake my iced chai latte addiction. I intended to give them up six months ago (and did for a while), but now I’m back to drinking them almost every day. So if I’m not going to make the perfect choice—stop buying the stupid things—I’ll make the slightly better choice: buying them in reusable cups.

my morning

Much like reusable bags, it takes a little while to train myself to use them (and I still only remember them half the time). When I was making the effort to stop, it seemed like too much extra willpower to switch to reusables, and I wondered if it was even worthwhile.

I had a hard time tracking down data on how many times I’d have to use a reusable cup in order to break even with the disposable ones Starbucks uses. The only study that I could find back-up material for is from 1994. Consider how much has changed in the world since 1994. (Did the internet even exist?)

Everyone made a big deal of the fact that the study said a ceramic cup would have to be used 1,006 times to break even with styrofoam, but they seemed to ignore the fact that it only needs to be used 39 times to break even with paper (far more common now), and a plastic cup only has to be used 17 times. Easy enough for a person with a coffee-a-day habit. And dishwasher efficiency has increased 42% since 1990, so reusables would make even more sense now than they did back then.

Ironically, I think one of the things that has changed the most since 1994 is that most places have switched from styrofoam cups to paper, which requires a lot more energy to produce. Of course, styrofoam can’t be recycled or break down in landfills, but neither can paper cups coated in plastic. (Unfortunately, disposable plastic cups for iced drinks weren’t even considered in the study.)

Eventually I hope to actually abandon this vice, but until then, I’ll make the effort to use reusable cups secure in the knowledge that after the first dozen or so, it’s far better than the disposable alternative.


Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time April 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm

[…] started using a reusable cup just in time: This Friday, Starbucks is offering free beverages to people who bring in their own […]

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