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De-cup Your Decaf Featured on Sep 13, 2012
Are coffee shops part of your daily routine? If so, go one week without using any disposable coffee cups.
By using your own coffee cup, you will reduce your CO2 emissions by a total of 1.25 lbs this week.
17668 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 9.2 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 7 homes for about 1 month!
You know what? Even the folks here at Rally Control have a hard time fighting climate change some mornings without a large cup of coffee. Some Mondays, we can’t tell our Challenges from our Results and can’t keep from tripping over our own carbon footprint without an extra large French Roast. And maybe a cruller. But now we’ve found a way to combine the two. (Coffee and reducing carbon emissions, not coffee and the cruller. That would be soggy.)
The Carbon Connection
Americans love their coffee. By some estimates, Americans drink more than 100 billion cups of coffee every year. Of these, a staggering 14.4 billion are bought in disposable paper cups. Placed end-to-end, these cups would wrap around Earth 55 times and weigh around 900 million pounds.
Paper and cardboard make up over 40% of the solid waste buried in North American landfills. Of that 40%, a disproportionate amount is attributable to disposable coffee cups. Unlike newspaper and cardboard boxes, disposable paper cups are not recyclable. The thin lining that makes a paper cup waterproof also keeps it from being recycled. All of those cups end up in our nation’s landfills.
The manufacture of the coated paper stock used in making coffee cups requires energy. It also takes energy to manufacture cups from the paper stock. And then it takes more energy to transport the completed coffee cups from the factory to the coffee shops. All of that energy most likely comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere.
Getting It Done
Need help meeting this Challenge? Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Looking for an additional incentive? Many coffee shops and large chains offer a small discount on your cup of coffee if you bring your own reusable mug. The discount can vary from store to store, but we’ve seen discounts of anywhere from 5 to 30%. That works out to a savings of a dime to fifty cents on a $1.50 cup of coffee.
- For some people, the hardest part about using reusable coffee mugs or tumblers is making sure to have them with you when you want to buy a cup of coffee. Routine is your friend. Always rinse out your travel mug at lunchtime, then you put it with your lunch bag to take home. If you stop and buy coffee while driving to work, make sure your travel mug gets back to the car at the end of each work day. That way it will be there then next morning when you need it again.
- Unfortunately, the purchase of new reusable coffee tumblers has its own associated impact on climate. The production of plastic and steel and the manufacture of the tumblers themselves from plastic and steel all involve the release of CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere. It may take you a year and a half of using a new stainless-steel travel mug to really start saving carbon. So, when you take this Challenge, try to use a travel mug that you already own. If you own several, take your extras to work and offer them to co-workers.
- If you don’t already have a reusable coffee mug and need to buy one, you won’t have trouble finding them. Travel tumblers are sold at large department stores, coffee shop chains, and online. Look for something you’ll be comfortable using for years to come.
- There’s also a carbon impact to washing your reusable coffee mug. Heating water requires energy and that energy probably started somewhere with someone burning fossil fuels. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t wash your reusable mug! But maybe your daily routine could be to give your mug a quick rinse with cold water when you’re done with your coffee. Then give your mug a more thorough wash with warm water and soap every couple of weeks.
Can you think of other ways to make this Challenge fun and easy? What sorts of encouragement are you seeing for reusable mugs at your local coffee shops? Please share your stories and ideas in the Challenge forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks you to use 5 less disposable coffee cups each week. By switching to a reusable coffee mug and using 5 less disposable cups, you will reduce your CO2 emissions by 1.25 lbs per week. This Challenge lasts for one week and is repeatable.
See the Math
Here are our basic assumptions:
- Based on an April 2000 Starbucks/Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force report, we are assigning a CO2 savings of 0.25 lbs per medium-sized coffee cup. That includes both the CO2 released when fossil fuels are burned to create the energy needed to manufacture the paper in the coffee cup and then manufacture the coffee cup itself. It also includes the energy used to transport the cups from the factory to your local coffee shop.
- If you’re like us and really enjoy your daily cup of coffee, it should be safe to assume you might buy one cup of coffee each day during the work week. Let’s call that 5 medium-sized cups of coffee per week.
- Therefore, for each week that you don’t use 5 disposable coffee cups at 0.25 lbs of CO2-savings each, you will save 1.25 lbs of carbon dioxide.
- Most likely, you normally get a cup of coffee with a plastic lid and/or a corrugated cardboard “hot sleeve.” The manufacture of those two things also contributes carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Our calculations do include the savings from using 5 fewer cardboard sleeves per week; they do not include using 5 fewer plastic lids.
Remember, it isn’t just you and your 5 cups a week. With over 14 billion cups of coffee being sold each year in disposable cups just in the United States, the potential carbon reduction from people making this little change in their lives is enormous. Think of this as a Challenge with an extra espresso shot. Buzz in, Rallyers!
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