Global Warning: the perfect cup of coffee should come in a real cup

Maria Alexander

“Global Warning” is a column discussing relevant environmental concerns that our planet faces today. The column aims to provide thought-provoking commentary on such issues and offer reasonable solutions that will propel our world towards sustainability.

I am definitely part of the teenage caffeine obsession. When Advanced Placement assignments roll in, so do the medium cappuccinos. Like many coffee consumers, I try to bring my own reusable cup instead of relying on standard paper cups, but sometimes this just isn’t feasible. Although it may seem difficult to implement this regimen, coffee shops around the country should attempt to minimize their waste through strategies such as cup rentals. 

Now, you may be thinking that such a policy is not worth the time and effort to be put into action, but coffee cup waste is significant. Blue Bottle Coffee Company, whose headquarters are located in Oakland, reports that they go through 15,000 disposable cups per month at every cafe, according to SF Eater. As a result, around 12 million cups are used for the entire company in one year. Can you imagine how much waste a larger chain like Starbucks produces? With coffee culture so prevalent in the modern era, it is no surprise that 250 billion fiber cups end up in landfill every year, according to Fast Company.

To minimize this monstrous amount of waste, a radical step towards sustainability must be made. Blue Bottle is one of the first in the industry taking initiative. As of Dec. 2019, they have initiated a pilot project where patrons are expected to bring a cup from home or pay a deposit on one of their cups which can be returned to the cafe for cleaning. In an online statement from the Blue Bottle website, CEO Bryan Meehan said that by the end of 2020, every U.S. location of Blue Bottle will be zero waste, which means that at least 90 percent of generated waste will be diverted from the landfill.

Programs like this may be a slight inconvenience to consumers but innovators like Meehan know that; in an online Blue Bottle press release, he stated, “We are proud to announce an experiment that may not work, that may cost us money and that may make your life a little bit more complicated.” One economic consequence is that Blue Bottle and other coffee companies that adopt this policy may lose business if potential customers are deterred by the responsibility of bringing their own cup or taking care of a rental. 

However, this policy may not be so bad for business after all. According to SF Eater, the prices for cups, straws and carry-out containers (which are all part of a company’s fixed costs) are rising due to tariff disputes with China. By implementing a cup rental policy and encouraging personal reusable cups, coffee companies can eliminate these fixed costs.

The extra thought or costs on the consumer’s end is worth it. Everybody is forgetful or has moments where they’ll settle for a disposable cup, and that’s alright. However, the businesses themselves need to start mandating sustainable options, such as coffee chains phasing out disposable cups.