Coffee beans at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort in Alajuela, Costa Rica on Oct. 23, 2019. (Toh Gouttenoire/The New York Times)

Toh Gouttenoire / The New York Times

March 3, 2020

Caffeine Dependents Take Heed: Bring Your Own Mug

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I never leave home without my phone, wallet, keys, water bottle and coffee mug. Those last two items have become essentials on campus. Before I left for college, I was gifted a fourteen-ounce stainless steel carafe by my mom, who supported my coffee consumption. As soon as I set foot on campus a year and a half ago, I began drinking coffee almost daily. According to an article in The New York Times, coffee in moderation is associated with lowered risk of mortality and was included in the 2015 dietary guidelines as part of a healthy diet. I’m grateful that Cornell provides ample access to coffee; with its numerous cafés across campus, anyone who needs their caffeine fix can obtain it easily. However, with Cornellians’ constant ingestion of caffeine comes immense waste of cardboard cups and plastic lids. One does not reuse a single-use cup (as indicated in the name). By switching to reusable mugs and tumblers, we can create tremendous change on campus.

Drinking one cup of coffee per day from a single-use cup creates 23 pounds of waste per year. Although many single-use cups have the recycling symbol, only about 1 in 400 cups actually are recycled. The cups suited for hot beverages are often infused with a plastic lining, which cannot be separated from the cardboard in a normal recycling plant. Only 10 major cities around the world accept Starbucks plastic cups for recycling, according to Starbucks’s 2018 Global Social Impact Report. As the largest coffeehouse chain in the world, Starbucks uses more than eight thousand plastic-lined cups per minute, which is over four billion cups a year. Cornell is a Starbucks campus, with seven out of ten cafes — including Libe, Atrium and Bus Stop Bagels — serving Starbucks brews and handing out their cups. Each disposable cup is responsible for 0.24 lbs. of carbon greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to the emissions produced by driving just over a quarter mile in an average car. These statistics on the waste produced from the simple act of buying a cup of coffee should be frightening to us all. A reusable mug is an easy solution.

In 2018, only 1.3 percent of beverages at Starbucks were served in personal cups, even though the company offers ten cents off per drink when one brings their own container. Many coffee shops, including most cafes on Cornell’s campus, offer some sort of discount for bringing your own mug. Besides being sustainable, a reusable carafe keeps your drink hotter (or colder), is less likely to spill or leak and has no plastic taste or BPA (or any other chemicals). There are many different types of mugs available, ranging from glass to stainless steel to silicone to bamboo. Some popular brands include Hydroflask, Yeti, KeepCup and Stojo. My mug, by Bubba, can hold hot and cold beverages, and has a tight seal so even when it falls out of my backpack, it never leaks. The high-quality reusable carafes often cost around $25 to $35, which may seem expensive to purchase. However, that is the price of around fifteen 16-ounce cups of brewed coffee from Starbucks. Within a few months, you will have paid off the mug in discounts, feel better about not wasting paper or plastic cups and helped to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

By using a carafe, you will save money, decrease your carbon footprint and will enjoy your beverage at a constant temperature for longer. At this point, my mug is an extension of myself. I have plastered it with stickers of my favorite coffee shops, and it is covered in scratches from falling out of my backpack. I drink coffee or tea almost every day, sometimes multiple times, so my mug saves an inordinate amount of paper and plastic waste. Cornell should offer more incentives for students to bring their own mugs. Temple of Zeus has $1 drip coffee only if customers bring their own mug.  More changes of this sort could motivate many more people to bring their own carafe, inducing a culture change around coffee and sustainability at Cornell. Some people find that bringing a reusable mug everywhere is a nuisance. However, the tiny adjustment, which soon fades as bringing the mug becomes habitual, is a major benefit to the environment. Join the many Cornellians who are already using reusable mugs and making change. The Cornell Store sells many varieties — or, you may already have one — make a plan to carry yours with you tomorrow!

Save the earth and your wallet by using a reusable mug.