Disposable Coffee Cups VS Re-usable Travel Mugs: Why isn’t Re-Use Winning?

Re-Usable Custom Printed Travel Mugs

Options to reduce, reuse, and recycle are everywhere. More people are bringing reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and the number of people choosing to car pool to a common location. We bring our plastic bags into the store to recycle and donate our goods to charity. Some recycle their aluminum for a deposit or collect their glass for rebates. Why isn’t the same true with re-usable travel mugs just yet?

At Fairware, we work with a lot of clients who want to help their employees and customers to kick the disposable coffee cup habit. But changing behaviors is not always as simple as getting cool, custom branded re-usable travel mugs in your hands.

Disposable Coffee Cups > The Problem

According to the Sustainable Layfette, an estimated 14 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away every single year. This is enough to encircle the Earth 55 times and weighs about 900 million pounds. 900 million pounds of trash per year, just for coffee cups!

Mother Nature Network found that the waste from coffee cups is responsible for the loss of more than 9 million trees. Can you imagine the amount of other trash we throw away?

On average, Americans generate about 4.5 pounds of trash per day, and about 1,642.5 pounds in a single year! This amount includes coffee cups. Imagine what the pounds of trash per year would shrink to if we recycled everything we were able to!

While disposable coffee cups made from paper may seem like they are able to be recycled, they unfortunately are not! The inside lining of these cups often contain polyethylene, a plastic that ensures the cup will not melt or turn mushy when a hot beverage is poured into it. Good for safety, but not so good for the environment and recycling efforts!

Even corporations such as Starbucks have seemingly given up on the disposable cup dilemma. According to the Huffington Post, Starbucks had pledged in 2008 that, “…we {Starbucks} have set a goal to make 100 percent of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015.” More recently, STAND, an environmental NGO, just launched the #bettercup campaign demanding Starbucks make good on that earlier commitment for 100% recyclable cups, and 25% re-use.

Re-Usable Travel Mugs > The Barriers

So, why don’t we recycle the disposable coffee cups we receive at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, gas stations, and other shops? Are we not concerned with the billions of trees that are harvested every year just to satisfy our caffeine addiction?

It all comes down to convenience and opportunity. Given the opportunity, would most people remove the cardboard sleeve from the disposable coffee cup in order to recycle it? Possibly. Would they feel more apt to recycle the sleeve if they were reminded or offered some sort of incentive? Perhaps.

Why choose to use reusable coffee cups instead of disposable ones? Reusable coffee cups save trees. The less paper coffee cups, the less trees that are harvested and less energy that is expended to create these coffee cups.

Slowly but surely, reusable coffee cups can bring about a change. It isn’t just about recycling or reusing things a few times. Social and behavioral changes will play a huge role in getting reusable coffee cups to take off.

Many national and local coffee shops have tried to promote reusable mugs by offering a small discount to customers who bring their own cups for their coffee. This seems like a great idea, so why aren’t people taking advantage of it? As it is, only 2% of Starbucks customers bring their own mugs.

Consumers don’t like being fined and in some cases, ‘taxes’ on re-use can be more effective than an incentive to save.  Here’s the hard truth: bringing your own mug is inconvenient- and most of us try to avoid inconvenience at all costs.

Disposable Coffee Cups > The Solutions

If you’re not a policy maker or coffee house manager in charge of setting taxes or incentives what can you do? Encourage your staff, coworkers and friends to bring your own coffee mugs. Some of the most effective campaigns we’ve seen to encourage reusable travel mugs aim to help the user change the habit of getting disposable cups.

At Fairware, we’ve worked with leading brands to source cool reusable drinkware while also working with our clients to develop programs to change behaviors and break down the barriers to using reusable cups. We’ve seen clients offer mugs (and discounts at local coffee shops), we’ve seen competitions that have prizes for employees who use their travel mug for a month and we’ve even seen companies serve up free coffee for those you use travel mugs for a month. You’ll sense a theme – most research shows it takes over 20 days of doing something to change at habit.

Fairware supports the use of sustainably sourced materials for various goods. We are committed to products with zero waste and that encourage sustainable lifestyle changes. Together we can work towards a more sustainable and waste-free future. Want to connect on running a ‘lug-a-mug’ campaign? Contact Fairware to learn more about our re-usable travel mug options and take advantage of our experience helping brands drive more sustainable habits.

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