Coffee, Plastic, and Grocery Bags


            Earlier this summer when I would drive to work I started stopping at a local UDF or Starbucks to get my morning coffee. When I would go to UDF the coffee was cheaper than Starbucks but instead of walking out with my coffee in a biodegradable container I would walk out with a single use polystyrene cup that would have a usage life of an hour. While at Starbucks I would get a biodegradable container that if composted would return to the soil in the form of organic matter.


            After watching the single use cups build up in the FLOW office I bit the buck and got a refillable travel coffee mug that is also recyclable. But still I wonder about the thousands of single use cups that are going to be thrown away each day.


My UDF refillable cup

            Whether your cup is Styrofoam or biodegradable it is likely destined to spend most of its life in a landfill. The plus of a biodegradable cup is that if it makes it out in the natural environment it will decay before it reaches one of the ocean’s garbage patches. Unless you personally compost your compostable food items it will do little to effect the filling in of landfills. This is the same for any other “disposable” item you can think of. A larger problem than coffee cups is trash bags. Plastic bags mostly end up in the trash, and are so lightweight that they escape to our water ways.

plastic ocean

Photo from an Ocean Gyre

            Some local governments have taken action to fight plastic bags. In Washington DC, Montgomery County Maryland, many parts of California, and other sensitive areas have put a $.05 tax on a plastic bag, but have given you $.05 back if you use reusable grocery bags. Other countries have instilled similar measures to reduce the amount of plastic in both landfills and the environment. In china Styrofoam takeout has been banned and in Germany the manufacturers are required to collect it after use.

            In the book Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough the authors recommend that packaging and other single use items be designed with the end in mind. If you harken back to the stories of the milk man and deposits on glass bottles that were always refilled, then there is a blue print in place that some people even still remember.

            It will be hard to break our addiction to single use items, it really takes a personal commitment to eliminating the amount of these items that we use as they are in our everyday lives. But our local and county governments can help by placing the 5 cent tax on plastic bags, or by banning Styrofoam take out containers. It takes great awareness to try and buy things that our biodegradable and even more commitment to recycle and compost all that you can. Until government acts, use paper when you can and remember that travel mug for your coffee.


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