Sunday, 15 March 2015

Starbucks Cups - Landfill Gluts

Hey everyone,

Today I was at Bower Ponds in Red Deer playing at the park with my kids and I couldn't help but notice the near overflowing garbage can nearby! I looked inside and noticed that it was mostly full of "disposable" beverage cups. So I took a picture and made a "tongue-in-cheek" comment on social media about how seeing this made me feel. This started a conversation which has carried on all day, so I have decided to collect my thoughts and write a blog about it.

"Hummm... It seems that there are 2 main companies
producing garbage here and I feel guilty for
going along with it..."
If you're wondering why these cups don't get recycled check out this Bloomberg article. The article lays out how it is not economically feasible to recycle them. Which really begs the question, how much would it cost if we had to pay the environmental costs upfront when we buy a cup of coffee?

This may just be the million-dollar-question; literally and figuratively. From start to finish what are the environmental costs incurred in order to get a cup of coffee? 

1. We clear wetlands and forests to make roads and pipelines to drill wells. Then we build huge refineries and load the oil onto boats and ship it to china. (Shhh... but sometimes the oil spills...)

2. Then people working in near slave-like conditions toil in dirty factories to make our disposable cups and then ship them back across the ocean to us. Then diesel burning trucks haul the cups hundreds of miles in each direction.

3. Then we idle in our cars while waiting in drive-thru's, with a cue of others like us wrapped half way around the block. There are lights turned on in the building all day and night and somewhere, far away, a coal plant is bellowing plumes of smoke. The building is encircled in pavement often covering over once prime fertile farmland. There's a 10 square foot patch of artificially maintained grass next to the sign, kept alive by chemicals, giving us that reassuring feeling that nature is near! 

4. Then after all that we pay our city taxes so all this material can be landfilled. Rainwater then soaks down and leachate chemicals fill up and must be constantly pumped out and treated in a never-ending battle to prevent groundwater seepage. Again, prime real-estate and farmland is contaminated and will be so for many generations.

I'm not even going to talk about how we got the coffee bean...

So you tell me; how much would a cup of coffee cost if we had to pay it's "true" cost upfront and didn't have the option of passing the environmental costs down to future generations?

With all this said, we could just refuse. We could just refuse to buy products that couldn't be reduced, reused or recycled. This concept is aptly called the "4 R's"; reduce-reuse-recycle & REFUSE! 

I have a special shoutout to Jeff Rock; who kindly gave me a reusable cup after hearing me rant about this subject once. He probably echoed Ghandi and said "Be the change you want to see in the world." 

I have, however only used the cup a bunch of times and thus far have failed to put my words into meaningful action. I have preached about this for a while and still can be seen doing un-sustainable things... What's the solution?

Closely related to this subject is the topic of reusable bags. Today I was at the grocery store. The clerks are trained to ask if I want bags. I always respond guiltily that "yes, I will take some plastic bags and do my part for the landfill". As the clerk was bagging my groceries I wondered what it would take to actually get me to change my behaviour, as I have been trying to change this habit for sometime. To which I reasoned the only possible way to change my behaviour would be to force me to. In other words the only way to get me to stop using plastic bags would be for the government to outright ban them! I suppose the same goes for the "disposable" cups. Maybe the only way to get me to outright and altogether STOP USING DISPOSABLE CUPS would be for the government completely ban them!

The idea of such strong government intervention into our personal lives really flies in the face of my normal response to things like this. On most issues I say we should be "educating instead of legislating". But I wonder if this issue is urgent enough that it would be appropriate to take the extreme measure of banning bags and cups? After all the ocean is becoming inundated in plastic and our landfills are burgeoning to capacity with things we should be recycling.

Even though I am educated about this subject I still fail to make my words into actions. Is merely educating people about recycling going to work for us? Has it worked for us?

Maybe there is a "free market" solution. Maybe all the businesses will get together and act altruistically? Maybe if all these coffee shops and places that sell disposable cups were to come together, they could invent a sustainable system?

What would that look like?

Would they all charge an upfront "environmental fee" the way we do with cans and bottles? Then would they offer a refund back at the drive-thru window when a customer placed a used disposable cup into a special receptacle so the cup could be recycled? Would all the added emissions of hauling the cups back and then refining the plastic and paper, offset the gains made by doing so?

Bah! What a mess we have created for ourselves? I doubt there is a way to make our current system sustainable. Companies like Starbucks and Tim Hortons brilliantly created demand for disposable cups where before there was none; now we are all addicted and whiny when we are told to kick the habit. Just like the Keurig cups, we've been sold something we didn't know we needed and will not give up the convenience without a fight.

I long for a Star Trek future where we can just tell a machine we want a coffee and it will simply "materialize" in front of us. Then when we are done supposedly it will just de-materialize and leave no traces? Maybe we'll do this for cheeseburgers too and then after were done gorging ourselves, the fat will de-materialize as well!!!

Ok Im going to bed... :p


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& IRL (In Real Life) - lets go for coffee!


Have I persuaded you to change your habits or will you be like me, cynically standing in line for another cup?

Are you feeling guilty too? Is it enough to make you change?

Ok... I'll try to change... One step at a time...


Final Note: Thank you Starbucks for setting out your coffee grounds for gardeners to take for free. That was a good move. I have collected many bags for my garden!