Take-Out Cups: A Meditation on Waste

Readers, I need to blow off some steam, so pardon the following rant. I’m hoping some of you can empathize:

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen what trash does when it gets out of your garbage can and into a part of the world where people rarely are. I’ve seen the waste problem and it cannot be unseen. It’s like I have these glasses on, not the rose colored ones, but a kind that make it so I cannot NOT see and observe waste.

Mahi Mahi - caught with a fragmented plastic grid in its throat.

What is waste? Waste is anything that is not essential, something extra that serves no purpose. Waste is something that is used for 5 minutes and thrown away, yet is made of materials that will far outlive its usefulness.

What am I getting at, exactly? Well, it’s something we all know and most definitely have all used:

The to-go coffee cup.

Is this really necessary?

Yeah, that thing. That small, seemingly innocuous little cup. Nobody thinks about it. They think, “I need coffee. I need tea. I need a venti-soy-no-whip caramel macchiato and I need it now or I will drive this car off the road.” To most people, this cup is just a means of getting them a jolt of caffeine and the thought of throwing this plastic-coated paper cup and plastic lid in the garbage isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s usually a non-issue. People buy their coffee, they drink said coffee and then maybe it registers somewhere in their subconscious that they have to throw this cup in the garbage. That last part isn’t really a conscious thought though. It’s just what you do when you’re done using a cup…you throw it away. Chain reaction, satisfaction guaranteed, no guilty conscious.

But what if people thought about that cup in a different way? What if people were exposed to what a coffee cup really is? What if their thought process went like this:

“I need coffee. I need tea. I need a venti-soy-no-whip caramel macchiato and I need it now or I will definitely drive this car off a cliff. But wait just a second here. You mean to tell me this coffee cup is coated with plastic? Like…even if I make SURE it finds a home in the nearest garbage can it probably still won’t break down? Because it’s going to a landfill, where nothing breaks down? And what’s that? The lid that I sip my delicious life-blood out of is made of a material that wasn’t designed to break down quickly, in any sort of environment? So what you’re telling me is that this coffee cup is basically going to outlive me…and I only used it for 10 minutes. Uh…what?”

It's plastic...but you can't recycle it! What gives?!

So my goal with this post is to 1) rant a little bit but mostly to 2) meditate on the idea of waste in an item as simple as a coffee cup.

Hopefully people reading this might think, “Wow, that is crazy…” and the next time you get coffee, you’ll think about your coffee cup a little differently. If you already think this way…I raise my cup to you!

Yes, there will be a few who will read this and ten minutes later they’re craving a caramel macchiato and they forget all about this notion of “waste”. They’ll continue to go about their daily lives with no real thought as to what they’re consuming. That’s not really acceptable, but it’s OK…because these are the people I will continue to fight for and try my hardest to educate. Sooner or later, they’ll have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Beautiful, functional options that save us many dollars. 🙂
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4 thoughts on “Take-Out Cups: A Meditation on Waste

  1. One great thing about my workplace, Pearson, is that on an employee’s first day they receive their ID badge and a Pearson mug. We have coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all in our office kitchen, so we are really cutting down on waste. I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen someone walk in with a Dunkin’ Donuts cup, but can recall multiple times a cay I see coworkers toting around their Pearson mug. There aren’t even any plastic cups in the kitchen to tempt us.

    I think more companies should do that!

    Rock on Ryan, keep on writing!

    -Brooke

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  2. Ryan, I empathize with you, as I have this thought just about every day! Your post is awesome – I will definitely pass your link along for others to read!
    I run a Terracycle program at our school and try to catch as many plastic cups as I can to send for recycling, but that is just a drop in the bucket. We all need to stop using these crazy things!
    Wow! Kudos to Pearson – that is very inspiring, Brooke!! I hope many others will follow suit! We can do it!!

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  3. Kate

    Thank you so much for writing this. I work at a coffee chain and everytime someone buys a takeout coffee a little part of me dies. Especially when people use a takeaway cup to drink something in store because ‘it keeps it warmer’. I dunno, maybe it’s just me but I am willing to sacrifice a little warmth from my coffee in return for, you know, helping the planet. People buy coffees everyday and never think they could perhaps use a resuseable cup or anything, they just mindlessly create waste even when there are heaps of options coming out on keep/eco cups and many places offering incentives such as discounts on people bringing their own cups. We need to start thinking about how our own actions affect our world and our society and I’m glad other people are out there thinking the same thing.

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