If you’re one of the rare people who actually remembers to bring their reusable coffee cup to the cafe, then you should bask in the good karma while you can, because apparently, they’re not as environmentally-friendly as we all thought.
In a piece for The Conversation, Caroline Wood, a PhD researcher in food security at the University of Sheffield explained that a reusable coffee cup would need to be used between 20 and 100 times in order to have lower emissions than a disposable cup, and the average joe just isn’t meeting the mark.
Despite the popularity of the KeepCup, Wood notes that reusable cups typically make less than 5% of sales. “The unavoidable truth is that it simply isn’t convenient for people on the run to remember their cup, carry it around and wash it out between uses.”
The reason it takes so many uses for a reusable cup to offset its higher greenhouse gas emissions is due to “the greater amount of energy and material required to make a durable product and the hot water needed to wash them.”
If you’re a single-use coffee cup offender, the situation is much worse. Disposable coffee cups have a thin plastic lining which can’t be processed by paper recycling, so they end up in the landfill with the rest of our junk.
Even if your coffee cup can be recycled, there are still issues worth considering. “It consumes a lot of energy, generates greenhouse gas emissions through transporting cups to the correct facility and can be inefficient due to contamination from incorrect disposal,” she said.
So, what are coffee-drinkers supposed to do!? Wood suggests rediscovering “the delight of dining in, with a proper china cup.” It’s a romantic idea, but not very realistic when you’re running late to work in the morning.
Perhaps the only around this is to make sure you use a reusable cup for every drink you consume, and fill it with liquids that require little washing. That’s got to be worth some good karma, right?