Like most college students, I need a coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts to start my day. But I can’t ignore the twinge of guilt I feel every time my order is called out, and I grab my paper or styrofoam cup from the counter — knowing it will be thrown away as soon as I’m finished guzzling down the coffee.
People in the United States drink 400 million cups of coffee per day, making it the world leader in coffee consumption. And because most people don’t opt for a reusable cup, we throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year.
If you buy just one coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 pounds of waste in one year.
Styrofoam is convenient for packaging and insulation, but its environmental hazards outweigh its benefits. Many materials used to make styrofoam are toxic, and the emissions released from its factories cause air pollution, according to the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, research by the Cleveland State University states that styrofoam is non-biodegradable, non-sustainable and the waste often reaches the ocean, polluting the seabed and killing animals who swallow it.
I know my current habits are contributing to this environmental damage. But I plan on changing that with a solution I think is easy enough for everyone to try: investing in reusable cups.
I always carry my reusable water bottle around with me so I don’t have to buy one in between classes. But the only reusable coffee cup I have is for Wawa, which saves me money every time I go there to refill.
To be honest, these reusable containers were simply a cost-cutting method before I realized the bigger picture: they’re good for the environment, too.
Now that I know most of the styrofoam thrown away today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now, I believe it’s time to carry around my reusable cup more often.
Dunkin’ Donuts offers an annual promotion in the summer that allows you to buy a reusable plastic cup and receive a discount on your medium iced coffee or tea each time you bring it back for a refill. And your Starbucks beverage costs 10 cents less when you bring your own cup.
Coffee drinkers should consider taking advantage of these savings, while helping our planet through their actions.
Patrick Kenney, a freshman neuroscience major who routinely carries a reusable cup, agrees it’s not only a money-saving habit, but a green one.
“I think it is cheaper…and it is more eco-friendly,” Kenney said. “I do it myself because it helps me save money, and it helps me prevent the use of plastic and paper cups, which are bad for the environment.”
Some students may argue that recycling their paper Starbucks cups makes up for their short-lived use, but that’s not the case. According to a CNN report, the plastic lining within the cup that keeps it from getting soggy adds nearly 20 years to the decomposition process.
Bridget Fisher, a junior marketing major and the president of Students for Environmental Action, works at Saxbys. She said it is “disheartening” to see how many students come in each day who seem unaware of the environmental hazards caused by their coffee cups.
“What’s even worse is most of these cups are just being thrown away, which goes to a landfill,” Fisher said. “Our country is so dependent on disposable products, it often isn’t thought about.”
Fisher made the commitment to avoid using plastic-lined cups years ago. She said she hasn’t found it inconvenient at all.
“You don’t even need to spend money on a thermos,” Fisher said. “Most of the stuff I use to carry around water or coffee is a marinara sauce jar or other household item.”
Fisher’s makeshift thermoses prove that we have no excuse to ignore the downfalls of using paper and styrofoam coffee cups.
Switching to using a reusable cup or container is a simple, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to buying and disposing of plastic or styrofoam cups. This small change can have a huge ripple effect on the environment.
I know my actions now will ultimately affect the future, so I will put forth my best effort to be conscious of how wasteful I am — you should try it out, too.