May 13, 2011

Sign-up Now and “Share” to Shift Our Disposable Cup Habit and Create Community-wide Change

A post by Karin de Weille

Here in Seattle, we’ve taken the lead in recycling. Now we need to push the envelope by shifting to reuse. In the U.S., we use about half a million disposable hot-beverage paper cups every 15 minutes. And that number has increased by a third in a mere four years.

See this picture with the Statue of Liberty? It’s an image produced by the Seattle photographer Chris Jordan (from his Ted talk). The frame is filled with columns of stacked paper cups. See the little notch on the bottom left? That’s two tiny people looking up—at the cups America uses in a single day.

Our addiction to convenience is getting out of control. Recycling is better than landfill but does that mean we get to be wasteful, extruding a veritable torrent of disposable, single-use items, plowing through the resources burned up for the sake of a product used once and then tossed? Let’s take a closer look…

Manufacturing paper cups is extremely resource-intensive, using tons of wood, water and energy. Then there’s the plastic and palettes we use for transport, the trucks (and the cost of manufacturing these), the miles of road they travel, the fuel they burn, the greenhouse gases suffusing our atmosphere...

For about ten minutes, the cup holds my hot drink. Then I throw it away. It makes me want to say, Never mind, I’ll bring my own. Really, please don’t bother.

But that’s not the end of it. Let’s add in the cost of composting and recycling: the trucks that hit the road to pick up all this waste, the cost of manufacturing them, the fuel they burn, the road they wear down, the cost of the facilities that must do all the composting and recycling, etc. And what about the cost of loading it all on ships and moving it halfway across the world to China, where most of Seattle’s recycled material ends up? Add to that the fact that paper recycling is really downcycling, your cup will eventually end up in a landfill no matter what.

All for the sake of a cup you use for ten minutes and then toss. Yes, recycling is good—when there is no alternative. But does it give us permission to create waste? That’s backwards! We still need to conserve all we can, by using the store’s mugs or bringing our own.

Let’s lead the way here in Seattle, as we did on recycling. No reason to stop now and be satisfied with the status quo. The next step in the evolution of consciousness is reuse. And it’s nothing new. It’s a natural practice that has only recently been derailed. People have always hung onto stuff, including our parents and grandparents. Throwing stuff out thoughtlessly is a new phenomenon, manufactured by the entrepreneurs of the 50s who realized that disposability consciousness was a cash cow and set about brainwashing us. Let’s take charge of our own minds and behavior now.

We’ll take three weeks, starting with Green Fest on May 21. Visit for details and sign up now. Signing on is critical since only then can our individual habit change inspire others, creating a community-wide shift. And so is sharing. Let’s make this grow together. Within weeks, a collective shift in habits can take place—let’s keep moving forward into the future, at a pace we can be proud of.

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