My disposable relationship

Dianna Cohen: Tough truths about plastic pollution (from TED.com)

Dianna Cohen’s brief talk offers a good overview of information regarding plastic pollution, and how we’ve gotten to the point we’re at. It’s something that I find myself thinking about regularly, especially in terms of my own contribution to these massive gyres of plastic. I’ve made a lot of effort in the months since I graduate to impose particular kinds of rules on myself about my behaviors in order to better manage my time, and I’ve had some decent successes (for example, you won’t see me doing non-blog things on Facebook right now). That said, I think it’s time I started devoting some of my personal willpower to restricting the amount of single-use waste I create.

Things kind of started with coffee (as with so many other things in my life).  I’m a near-everyday coffee drinker, and usually I make it at home myself. Thankfully for me, on the days when I don’t have time, I can always run around the corner from where I work and get some, which started happening on a semi-regular basis over the summer. And every time I went out for coffee, I felt really guilty looking at my disposable paper cup and the “recyclable” plastic lid that would probably be shipped off to China and burned. This is probably a little unusual for a lot of people, but anyone who knows me remotely well knows I have a perhaps overactive conscience, and these cups were really getting to me. So, I told myself that if I forgot to bring my own mug to buy coffee to go, I wasn’t allowed to get any.

While this has been a really good solution for me, I was admittedly not someone, even over the summer, who was buying coffee out every single day. But I do think this is a small, easily-enacted solution for people who hit the Starbucks drive-through on their way to work every morning–you just have to think about it differently. If I buy a large coffee (probably 16-oz.) at my usual spot, I’m looking at almost $2.00. Okay, not bad. But many places (including the one I go to) offer a substantial discount–sometimes as much as $0.50–on a drink simply for bringing your own mug. Depending upon who’s ringing me up at my usual spot, they also charge me the price of small coffee (even though I have a 16-0z. mug), which they then give me a discount on (this is probably more likely at local places versus Starbucks, but you never know). Bringing my own mug in the morning means I’ve reduced the cost of my coffee by half–I’m paying a buck for enough coffee to last me all day. My point to all you already-made coffee buyers–it’s much cheaper for you to bring your own mug. Save yourself some money, even if you don’t care about reducing the amount of disposable items you’re using. And if you do care about bringing down your level of plastic consumption, spring for a stainless steel mug instead of a plastic one–again, you’re doing your coffee habit a favor. Double-walled steel keeps coffee hotter longer (so you can avoid the blasphemy of reheating), isn’t porous like plastic (if you drink out of plastic mugs, the acidity of coffee will pretty much make that mug taste/smell like coffee forever, so don’t plan on drinking anything else out of it unless you want it to be coffee-tinged), is more durable, and let’s face it, it’s just sexier.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I should stop being lazy and do more to apply this same kind of restriction to my other plastic-consuming habits. I’ve got a load of non-plastic bags (that I already had) that I keep in my trunk for groceries, and it occurred to me the other day that I should be using them for every kind of shopping, especially clothes. I bring my bags in everywhere else or turn bags down for small items I can carry easily or put in my purse, so why should it be any different if I go somewhere to buy jeans? Yes, there are at least some visible efforts being made by stores to collect plastic bags for recycling, but I still get the feeling that most of them are still being burned somewhere. Plus, it’s not as though any plastic bag you get from a store (in the majority of circumstances, anyway) is being made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, either. Great, this bag might be recyclable, but it’s probably not actually being recycled and it’s definitely not being made into a plastic bag again to keep us from producing completely new plastic bags from scratch–which is true of pretty much all of the plastic items we use on a regular basis. And maybe this is where I start getting into crazy territory to some people, but I fully intend to stop using styrofoam containers from restaurants and start bringing my own (ceramic or glass) reusable containers to take my leftovers home.

Personally, I think that to drastically decrease plastic consumption, businesses should offer financial incentive for customers–at present I think it’s the only measure that would seriously impact how much plastic we use. I think stores should charge for plastic bags, and restaurants should charge for to-go boxes. In that spirit, I’m opting to “charge” myself for every time I have to take anything disposable, and set that money aside to be donated to a cause I care about. If I can make it work for coffee, then I can make it work for other things too–and while it doesn’t cut all the disposable items out of my life, it’s a start in the direction of drastically changing my personal consumption habits.

Coffee Chronicles #1

Today I’m writing from Hartford Coffee Company…

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