Paper Cups are really bad for the environment, Really?


 Image result for coffee cup

The following is a transcript of a speech given to Toastmaster’s International.  Company names have been omitted.

Doesn’t our company spend money on the stupidest things?!  Below is a press release from May 2017.
 “Following Sustainability Week and a pilot conducted in 2016, “blank-co” replaced paper cups in our 787, Jersey City, CBS and Time-Life office locations with “blank-co”-branded ceramic mugs for each employee.  This is part of the Bank’s regional commitment to reduce its environmental footprint, which is one of the four pillars of the Group’s CSR strategy, and in line with the Group’s recent announcement regarding Carbon Neutrality.”  (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)
With that bit of corporate news, I would like to have a unilateral conversation with you on the debate of using paper cups.
Love for coffee has a bigger price tag than meets the eye.  The paper cups that are used when we ‘take away’ coffee are slowly building up and polluting our environment.  Let not the word ‘paper’ fool you that it’s not as harmful as its plastic & foam counterparts.  Most paper cups are coated with a petroleum based plastic resin which makes them more durable and prevents coffee from leaking.  Further, the ink that’s printed on custom coffee cups does not bode well for our environment.
According to “BLANK CO”, “Our 4,500 U.S. “BLANK CO” staff use more than 2 million paper cups per year.”  I was astounded of that number (2 million) that we were using as an organization.  If you consider that the average employee has 10 U.S. holidays and another 5 weeks paid vacation days, then it turns out that we consume 2 paper cups/day.  I’m not sure about you, but that seems high to me.  For example, I was using about 4 cups/week or about 0.8cups/day.
Over the years, “BLANK CO” actually had a 2-part solution.  In the past (part I), “BLANK CO” had replaced paper cups with bioplastic cups.  Does everyone know what a bioplastic is?  Bioplastics are plastics made from renewable resources such as vegetable oil and corn starch.  But bioplastics too have side effects:
·     The cups got old, cracked (Earthquake), and dangerous to your health
·     And just because the cup was made of corn-based plastics, doesn’t mean that it was fully biodegradable.  Sometimes little plastics pellets remain after they’ve finished decomposing.
·     When they do degrade in a landfill, they produce Methane which is 20x more potent than carbon dioxide.  And they produce carbon dioxide too.
·     Also, think of all of the natural biodiverse forests that were destroyed to plant more corn to supply the raw materials.  This goes against the spirit of “BLANK CO”’s CSR policy on Palm Oil.
Part II.  The present-day solution, as you know, is replacing the paper cups with ceramic cups.  They’re pretty and interesting to look at.  I have one with a tree and I’m looking to add to my collection. There’re some problems and secondary effects with using ceramic cups:
·     First of all, they require a significant amount of energy to produce.  It takes 70x as much energy to produce compared to foam cups.
·     It takes significantly more energy to ship ceramic cups (as they’re so much heavier) and require more packing.
·     There is much energy (from the hot water) and use of liquid detergents each time your ceramic cup is cleaned in the sink
·     A ceramic cup must be used 118x before it breaks-even with its disposable counterpart.  Some articles say that this number could be as high as 1000x, meaning you would have to clean your cup 4 years just to break even (in terms of energy efficiency).  However, the average person works at a company less than 5.
My solution is, well, I don’t have a particular one.  What I do have are ideas.
I think it would have been better if “BLANK CO” sought ideas throughout the company in a sort of fun contest.  My solutions would have been to:
·     Simply ask people to drink less coffee (think of the hotels you go to with their towel policies)
·     Purchase paper cups that have a biodegradable lining.  Yes, they’re more expensive, but not that much more (about 20-30% more).
·     Ask employees to bring a spare ceramic cup from home
In conclusion, “BLANK CO” is honestly trying to reduce our environmental footprint.  It tried by introducing bioplastic cups years ago, and more recently, by replacing paper cups with ceramic cups.
I think the science is all over the place.  What is clear is that we live in a decadent and spoiled society and asking us to use fewer cups (of ANY kind) would be a quick win.
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