Help Keep the Earth Healthy

John Niec  Using plastic, steel or ceramic reusable coffee mugs is an easy way to reduce waste this Earth Day.

Help Keep the Earth Healthy

According to management at the Trader Joe’s at South Shore Center, Alameda County’s reusable bag ordinance has helped reduce the store’s daily paper bag churn by 75 percent. Throughout the county since 2013, customers are charged 10 cents per grocery bag. Rather than pay the fee, customers bring their own paper, plastic or canvas bags. Trader Joe’s started the reusable bag revolution in 1971 with its “save-a-tree” canvas bag campaign. The county ordinance clearly has helped the campaign.

The reusable coffee mug statistics, in contrast, are dismal. In the USA, Starbucks sells four million cups of coffee per day, which is about 33 percent of the market. That means Americans buy more than 12 million cups of coffee per day. However, less than 5 percent are served in reusable mugs. In Alameda, bring your own mug discounts range from 10 cents at the chains, 15 cents at the Beanery, 25 cents at Julie’s, to 70 cents at Alameda Bagels on Park Street. Wescafe on Webster charges a flat rate of $1.50 for coffee in your mug, regardless of size. 

Let’s do the math. According to the USDA, the average monthly grocery bill per person is around $250. If the family shopper needs to buy 10 bags because he forgot to bring his own, he would pay $1. If he brought 10 bags with him he would save that $1 against his $250 grocery bill.  

The average coffee consumer buys a cup of coffee six times a month. For loyal customers that number can be as high as 16. To simplify the comparison to grocery bags, we’ll assume our coffee lover buys 10 cups per month and she drinks regular drip coffee, which normally sells for about $2.00. If she frequents Wescafe she would save $5 against her $20 monthly coffee bill. 

Does the carrot and the stick motivation theory apply here? With grocery bags it’s a 10¢ bag fee (stick). With the reusable mugs at a local café, the discount (carrot) can be 50¢ or higher. Clearly, the savings are earned at a much lower price point with reusable coffee mugs than with reusable shopping bags. And yet, we bring our bags and leave our mugs at home. 
12 million paper cups per day, not including lids and sleeves, adds up to about 150,000 tons of landfill in the US per year, and at least triple that for the retail coffee market worldwide. Paper coffee cups are not recyclable because they are coated with polystyrene to make them waterproof. The CO2 emissions due to the manufacture of a single cup can equal driving your car ¼ mile.  

Here’s the stick: we are choking on disposable coffee cups. We can do something about it immediately. Starbucks sells reusable tumblers for as low as $2.00. Bed Bath and Beyond and Walgreen’s have more durable models starting at $5.00. Here’s some other resources:, and If you drink coffee, bring your own mug.