Workers in every major capital city in Australia line up religiously every morning at their favourite cafes or boutique hipster coffee space. They do this to gain their morning fix of golden brown, liquid gold. Coffee. The smell of roasted beans, the slick stainless steel machines and sanitised benches call people in off the street. Small food items encourage the consumer to mix in a sweet or savoury treat, with visuals and taste matching some of the best niche bakeries.
Bins along streets and office kitchens spill over with disposable coffee cups, and that’s just the early morning rush, not to mention the mid-morning ‘pick-me-up’. Conservative estimates are that over three billion coffee cups are handed over the counter to customers every year in Australia. Many of these cups, especially the plastic lids, end up in landfill or in our rivers and oceans. A 2016 World Economic Forum report highlighted that by 2050, the world was on track to have more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Unfortunately, many coffee cups are not recyclable. The interior of the cup is generally waterproofed with plastic, where it can actually contribute to contaminating legitimate paper and cardboard material that is being recycled. Some cups are similar to milk containers and have wax coating, but these can be more costly to manufacture. Cups also take a significant amount of resources to create. For example, to make one tonne of paper (for cups), it takes 98 tonnes of recourses, not to mention the crude oil and energy required to make them.
What can consumers do about this?
Baristas are trained in basic food hygiene and handling and it is a pre-requite for their craft that they are nationally certified. Regardless of their skill and consideration though, the delivery of take away coffee to customer comes at a price. The default receptacle for consumption is the disposable coffee cup, which ranges from being extremely eco-unfriendly to being labelled bio-degradable. Unfortunately, these do not compost naturally and actually still need industrial treatment.
There are ways that everyone as an individual can assist in reducing the impact on our environment. Take your time, enjoy the effort that trained baristas put into their craft. Swap out the disposable cup for a ceramic cup, enjoy a quiet moment either by yourself or with friends. Alternatively, take you own reusable coffee cup to your favourite store, they will be glad of your initiative.
In case you have missed recent media reports, France will be the first country in the world to take the stance by 2020 to ban all disposable plastic cups, plates, food containers and cutlery. This will be in addition to France also banning plastic bags across the country this year.