Disposable Coffee Cups: From Your Lips to the Landfill

People sometimes complain that recycling is not only too hard, but also too expensive, and that it’s better to just throw things “away”.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg

A few weeks ago, I read “Coffee-cup recycling brims with obstacles” about how our national obsession with coffee results in 3 billion Starbucks-branded paper cups going to the landfill each year. The author explains that although compostable cups won’t turn to goop in your hands anymore when filled with coffee, they’re still ($0.07) more expensive than the alternative. Starbucks would probably pass on the cost of the more expensive compostable cup to the consumer, thereby making the $2.51 Tall Latte more like $2.58.  Seriously, can you imagine paying $2.58 for your cup of Joe on your way to work while you fill up your tank with $3/gal gas? I started to wonder if it was any use making compostable products at all. Nonetheless, a compostable coffee cup would mean that at least we can reuse the fibers in the cup as something beneficial–like compost–from which plants and trees can grow.

Then I happened to hear Governor Schwarzenegger’s speech last night on the recently-contentious California Assembly Bill AB32, and something clicked. Climate change legislation in California is not about crippling the economy, but about creating incentives for entrepreneurship, innovation, and positive alternatives to our dependence on foreign oil. It’s about seeing climate change, and its economics in its entirety.

Similarly, although the mint.com article, “Trashonomics,” paints a gross and inaccurate picture about the economics of the garbage industry, it does highlight our problem: we throw good money into a pit in the ground.  It’s not just about how many green collar jobs are created by recycling.

So here we are. On the one hand, it’s too expensive to add an additional $0.07 per cup to our daily, designer coffee habit, and other hand, it’s not too expensive to deplete our national coffers and natural resources by sending good, reusable material into the landfill.

Is it too expensive to throw money away by land filling our bad, disposable, single-use habits yet?

One Response to “Disposable Coffee Cups: From Your Lips to the Landfill

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