Use it or lose it

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It has been a while since I wrote a blog, but I’m back. Due to some personal circumstances I haven’t been able to work on my writing the blog. For this blog I want to write about something that has been bothering me for a while. I think we all experience this phenomenon from day to day. I am watching people with reusable bottles, coffee cups and totebags walking around campus and I am wondering. Is this really as sustainable as they say? This made me wonder, how long does it take for a reusable coffee cup tp be sustainable? That is what I am going to find out in this blog.

 First, of all I want you to know I am all for reusable things and sustainability so there are no anger issues here (haha). Little confession, I have a reusable coffee cup myself. I am just wondering and thought it would be the perfect subject to write a blog about and enlighten you on my findings. So here goes the blog.

 You walk towards your favorite espresso bar, hand the barista your reusable coffee mug, and pat yourself on the back for not using one of those “bad for the environment” single-use cups.

 Sounds simple. Right?


 Granted, using a reusable cup lowers the waste-management environmental impacts. There is something you might not have thought about. Things such as the materials and energy that went into making you sturdier reusable cup, the soap, and the hot water it needs for cleaning, and the energy source behind the heat of this washing water. On average the reusable cup scores well on, emitting fewer greenhouse gasses than their single-use counterparts. Likewise for toxic emissions, smog, and ozone depletion.

 But I found out that there is a bitter part. Washing the reusable mugs with hot water and soap puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to ecosystem-quality indicators. These indicators cover issues such as ecotoxicological emissions, acidification, eutrophication, and land occupation.

For the caffeinated among us, the most relevant finding was that the number of times a cup is used is crucial. Indeed, only frequent use can reduce the reusable cup’s potential impacts; depending on the cup/mug type and the environmental indicator, it would take between 20 (human health category for a polypropylene travel mug) and more than 1,000 (ecosystem-quality category for all travel mugs) uses to make up for the impacts of a single-use cup. The single-use cup is better for the environment if a reusable cup is used less than that.

 So, what are our options? Is it possible for us to help the environment? Yes, a reusable cup is the way to go if you plan on using it for several years and restrict the amount of soap and hot water you use to clean it. Limiting your coffee consumption is another option to consider, but that is another issue altogether.