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The impact of disposable coffee cups on the environment

Nina Spitzer is a SheKnows.com columnist and a freelance writer living in sunny Cave Creek, Arizona.

Paper cups no more

Drinking coffee from paper cups is not only harmful to our environment, but potentially harmful to our mental state, as well. See how you can make positive changes in both areas.

Paper CupCoffee shop!  Run in.  Grab a cup of coffee and a Danish. Run out.  Hurry. Start up the car. Danish on lap - coffee dripping down chin…spills on the new white silk shirt.  Darn. Greasy crumbs on skirt.  At work! Engine off.  Another morning – another empty coffee cup tossed into the trash can beside the office door.  'Can't wait 'til coffee break!

Does this sound familiar?  If so, you are one of millions of American with the same morning scenario… or something very similar.  It doesn't stop there.  It continues at break time and then with that cup of coffee after work.  Chug it down - Toss the cup.  Do you see something wrong with this picture?

Environmental Impact

Let's look at the environmental impact of a paper cup. Americans drink over 100 billion cups of coffee every year and over 16 billion of those coffees are bought in disposable paper cups, adding up to more than 6.5 million trees killed yearly. Once removed from the ecosystem, those trees no longer produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide nor filter ground water.  But, it's not only about trees.  Consider all the ink, plastic, chemicals, water and multiple fuels that go into the manufacture of 16 billion cups!  In addition, 4 billion pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere during the production and shipping of those paper cups. Given that the average cup of coffee has a fifteen-minute life span, we have to ask ourselves if it is really worth it.

Recycle them?

Most paper cups have a thin coating of polyethylene resin coating for both insulation and durability.  This plastic coating prevents recycling of the cups. Worst, possible carcinogenic chemicals may leach into the hot coffee from that same plastic resin coating. Even if the cups could be recycled, they would still leave their carbon footprint upon the Earth.  It is estimated that over 40% of the solid waste in our landfills is paper and cardboard.

Use Styrofoam?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency over 25 billion Styrofoam cups are thrown away each year.  They will never decompose in landfills. Styrofoam cups are made from benzene and other yummy chemicals that, surely, can't be good for the environment or us!

Use ceramic cups?

Producing, shipping and washing ceramic cups also has an impact on the environment but, over all, it's still the best option.  According to the Environmental Defense Fund, after factoring in all the energy and water usage, a reusable ceramic cup is better than a paper cup for the environment after 70 uses.

tips from our "amici" in Italy

In Italy, drinking coffee is an "experience,' not a big gulp and out the door as it is for most Americans. Italians will sit at a table savoring the coffee's aroma and flavor from a ceramic cup while enjoying the conversation of companions.  If a little pressed for time, an Italian will stand at a bar (usually a coffee bar) sipping and chatting with the barista or nearby fellow coffee drinker.  For Italians, it's all about enjoying the pleasure of life!

During Your next visit at the coffee shop

The next time you're in your favorite coffee shop, make it a point to notice how many people walk away from the counter with the fifteen minute paper coffee cup versus a ceramic cup. Even those who have a few minutes to sit at a table are sipping from paper! Staggering fact: Americans are responsible for 58% of the paper cup consumption in the world!

Starting today - Slow down and smell the coffee!

I think we Americans need to take a few minutes out of our busy lives to "slow down and smell the coffee." That is, ask for a ceramic cup (or better yet, bring your own), sit down and savor the flavor, even if it's for only fifteen minutes. It's better for the environment, our health, our mental state and…our taste buds will smile too!

More coffee lover articles

Why you need to drink coffee
The health benefits of coffee
Is your coffee triple certified?
How to order your Starbucks drink to accommodate your diet
What your Starbucks drink says about you

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