A Mug's Game: Cups, Coffee and Cutting Waste

Spoiler alert: people generate a lot of rubbish. Here's a look at what you can do to cut down your footprint in one key area – your morning coffee

Feature by Peter Simpson | 02 Mar 2018
  • Ecoffee Cup

Try as we might, people are a bit too good at making a mess. Since the turn of the year there's been a renewed focus on cutting down the amount of plastic waste that our love for eating and drinking helps to create, thanks in no small part to the latest series of Blue Planet featuring a large number of sad, plastic-afflicted whales. While some people are just contrarian dicks with no regard for their surroundings – see the genuine Telegraph headline, ‘Why does your desire for a cleaner ocean trump the pleasure I get from drinking through a plastic straw?’ – the rest of us clearly don’t want to live in a world packed with tasty food and drink, but also covered in a thin dusting of polyethylene.

And it turns out there’s one easy place to start when it comes to cutting down on our waste: coffee. Well, coffee and straws, but while the case against plastic straws seems fairly straightforward – Just Drink The Drink Using Your Mouth – the coffee situation can initially seem a bit trickier. While Stewart Lee was right to ask “What’s wrong with just cupping the water in your hands and licking it up like a cat?”, that doesn't really apply when it comes to a flat white. You'd be scalded, the microbubbles would go all over your shoes; it's a bad look.

Luckily, there are myriad options for the discerning coffee drinker who also has no time to stop on the way to work. The KeepCup is a ubiquitous, barista-friendly option available in plastic and glass varieties; the JocoCup is a cool, chemical-free bit of glassware that comes in about a million colours; and the Ecoffee Cup is made with bamboo fibre so there's less chance of your poor dishwashing skills coming back to haunt you. There's the futuristic Frank Green SmartCup, and then there are options like the Therma Cup by Jody Leach which is basically a standard takeaway cup, but made from bone china.

There’s even the chance to rep your favourite local coffee shop with branded KeepCups available from the likes of Edinburgh’s Eteaket and Glasgow duo Gordon Street Coffee and Dear Green. Move over tote bags; there’s a new way to outwardly project your interests while also helping the environment!

There are venues who offer a discount for bringing their own drinkware, and then there are the truly enterprising types like Steampunk Coffee in North Berwick who held something of a shit mug amnesty just after Christmas. Steampunk offered a mug from their donated collection to anyone after a takeaway coffee who didn't have a cup with them, serving as a top-drawer gag, helpful piece of environmentalism, and potent symbol of the dangers of non-compliance, all at once.

MPs have floated the idea of a 25p per cup ‘latte levy’ on disposable cups, as well as a complete ban on non-recyclable cups by 2023. This sounds good in principle, but the idea of a cup tax has its own problems; notably, while the big chains can position themselves to eat a 25p discount on every single takeaway coffee, your favourite neighbourhood indy might struggle to do the same. 

See, doing the right thing tends to involve some kind of sacrifice, whether that’s in time, convenience, logistics or cold, cold cash. It is undoubtedly easier to grab a takeaway cup and throw it away than it is to bring your own; it is also easier to throw that cup at a seagull when you can’t find a recycling bin, doesn’t mean you should do it. By going reusable, you might save yourself some money, you'll definitely be helping your favourite coffee shop, and you'll be saving the planet as well. So make some room in your bag for your cup; the whales will thank you later.