I’m tired, at the station on the way home and need a coffee. I have a two-hour commute ahead of me and a ‘quick coffee’ will keep me from falling asleep and ending up in Cardiff. My flask is empty so I buy a quick Costa and sit back. Except that innocent-looking coffee cup and plastic lid I just bought is going to stick around long after I’ve got home. It’s going straight to the dump to be ploughed into the earth because so few disposable cups can be recycled that nobody really bothers any more.

Research by Cardiff University revealed that an estimated 2.5bn disposable coffee cups are used in the UK each year, creating approximately 25,000 tonnes of waste[i]. The plastic lining that keeps the cups waterproof also makes them hard to recycle or compost hence the vast majority end up in landfill or burnt. Less than one percent of cups are currently recycled[ii] a fact very few are aware of when they throw away their plastic-lined coffee cups.

After years of thinking I’m being fairly green I realised this year that all those odd coffee cups and lids are going to be hanging around long after I’ve gone. Each cup – maybe hundreds of them, will slowly decompose into fragments of plastic and dust that will be washed into aquifers or into the ocean to be eaten by fish and by ancestors. That’s if I have any ancestors after the CO2 emissions from those cups and our disposable lifestyle have ravaged this planet. I’d hate to glimpse fifty years into the future to see how earth’s population curses our generation for being so stubbornly, idiotically slow to respond to all the dire warnings on global warming.

So, after the images of plastic-choked seas in Blue Planet and all the information on disposable cups and plastic that came out this year, Bournemouth University’s staff union UCU decided we should do something about it.  We are running an information campaign on the impact that ‘quick coffee’ can have and students, staff and management are responding positively. Remember how not wearing a seat belt or smoking at work used to be normal? We are hoping that in a very few years from now carrying a disposable cup will be seen as irresponsible, even socially unacceptable. If that sounds harsh that’s because it still seems normal to have a ‘quick coffee’ and just chuck away the cup afterwards without a thought about where it will end up. That has to stop. As citizens we can’t wait for governments or coffee chains to act – we have to start with our own choices and take responsibility for the impacts we make. We need to ensure out our own actions and lifestyle is as sustainable as possible. If that means be awkward and asking for a real cup at the cafe, or carrying around our own mug, so be it.

Please join the campaign by pledging to ‘Ditch the Disposable Mug’ by signing up here: https://www.wearedonation.com/DoActions/you-mug/

And remember to ask for a real reusable cup next time you are ordering a coffee or tea. You could also pack a mug in your bag going to work, or leaving the office.

Don’t be a mug, bring a mug.

[i] https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/687689-curbing-coffee-cup-usage

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/16/takeaway-coffee-cups-recycle-environment-waste

David Mcqueen

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