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Sustainable Saturday – Reusable Cups & Adopting a More Sustainable Coffee/Tea Practice

Another simple way to make a positive impact on the Earth is to stop using single use drink ware and start using your reusable cups! Take it a step further and “green”-ify your coffee/tea practice!

Did you know that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world?! That’s A LOT of coffee! And not all of us are coffee drinkers, and some of us don’t get our coffee on the run. But that doesn’t mean that tea drinkers or home brewers can’t find valuable information in this post.

Today’s challenge is centered around our obsession with coffee and tea, and how we can adopt more sustainable practices around it.

Picture from the interwebs. I would love to credit the owner.

Here are some more frightening facts:

  • 58 billion paper cups are thrown away annually in the U.S.
  • Most of the cups are made with plastic-coated virgin paper – not only does that mean it’s not manufactured with recycled materials, but it’s difficult to recycle as well. After all, how do you recycle paper coated in plastic? Does it go to the plastic department or the paper one?! It goes into the landfill most likely!
  • Every 4 paper cups made, are responsible for 1lb of Co2 emissions.
  • 20 million trees are cut down to make paper cups each year.
  • 12 billion gallons of water are used to make a year’s worth of paper cups.
  • 53,000 homes could be powered annually by the energy needed to make and dispose of paper cups.
  • 25 billion styrofoam cups are consumed in the U.S. annually!
  • Foam cups are made of a non-biodegradable, petroleum-based plastic that contains toxic chemicals that can leach and threaten human health and reproductive systems! WHAT?!
  • Foam litter is hard to contain and is a significant component of land and water pollution.
  • This litter can be fatal when consumed by birds, fish and other wildlife.
  • Styrofoam is recycled at very low rates and will last in a landfill for over 500 years.
  • When incinerated by disposal companies, foam produces up to 90 different toxic and hazardous chemicals!
  • Tens of billions of single use plastic cups are trashed at U.S. restaurants, cafes & events.
  • In the U.S. airline industry alone, 9 billion plastic cups are used annually. That is insane!
  • Plastic creates toxic pollution at every stage of its existence: manufacturing, use and disposal.
  • The largest categories of plastic waste are packaging & containers like cups, bottles, lids, straws & takeout food ware.
  • 63 pounds of plastic, per person, per year, are trashed in the U.S. comprising up to 30% of landfill space. This is crazy!
  • In 2010, plastic cup recycling was so small, it was considered negligible!
  • Plastic trash makes up to 80% of all marine debris, it’s estimated that there is 6 times more plastic trash in our oceans than there are plankton! And by 2050, they estimate there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish! This is not ok!
  • Harmful chemicals leached by plastics are present in the bodies of almost every human being, including newborns!

Wow, that’s eye opening and depressing isn’t it?

So what can you do to help?

For starters, use your reusable cups! And if you don’t have one, go get one! If you consider them expensive, or even a waste of money, then get creative! Most likely, you have glass jars at home. A pint-sized mason jar is equivalent to a Grande-sized drink at Starbucks. Now, you might be thinking that if you use that glass jar for something hot, you’ll burn yourself. And that may be true, but you can invest in or make your own knit or fabric sleeve. Some coffee shops even give a discount for reusable cups!

Photo by me

So now we have our reusable cups, how do we remember to use them? Well if you brew at home, you have managed half the battle right there! Just fill it up on your way out the door. If you stop for your caffeine on the way to work or to wherever you’re going, skip the drive through (which is truly annoying anyway) and take your reusable cup with you inside the coffee shop. Getting comfortable with this may take some practice and if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea, go ahead and read through the ugly facts listed above for some motivation.

If your workplace still provides single use plastic, paper or foam cups, be sure to have what I call a “desk cup” as a means to ditch these single use cups. This desk cup can be the same reusable cup you brought in with you, or even a mug and/or other type of cup that lives at your desk. I used to take in a coffee and a water with me every day to work (now I work from home) and although it took some adjustments to have extra “things” with me, it truly benefited me in the end! I started drinking more tea and water throughout the day.

Ekobrew Reusable K-Cup

I think this is also a good place to talk about Keurig and other single use pods. Do you know how to correctly recycle these? First, you need to determine if your local recycling pickup or drop off center accepts them. Secondly, you need to empty any contents within (coffee or tea grounds) and clean them fully of any contaminants. You must also separate the foil/paper top from the plastic and recycle that separately. Following correct recycling practices is extremely important! Any one contaminated item ruins the entire batch! Keurig recently released a line of recyclable K-cups (in the past some recycling centers wouldn’t accept them even if you followed the above directions), but the ultimate way to reduce your impact when using your Keurig is to buy a reusable filter. To use a reusable filter, you purchase your coffee by whatever means you enjoy, ground your own beans (if you buy them whole) and then fill your reusable filter and pop it into your coffee maker, the way you would one of those disposable K-Cups. You can even go pro-status when buying coffee beans and use your reusable produce/whatever bag, whether you’re shopping at the local grocery store’s bulk section or even at your local coffee shop.

Tea diffuser

Now for you tea drinkers, the obvious sustainable change would be to buy loose leaf tea, preferably in an eco friendly container. I used to be a HUGE coffee drinker, but this year I gave it up. I still use my Keurig several times a day to brew my teas. I just use some handy dandy tea diffusers. You could also use one of the reusable/refillable K-Cup filters and fill it with your tea leaves and brew it the way you would coffee. Just depends on your tasting preferences.


No matter how you take your coffee or tea, remember that adopting sustainable practices are just about adjusting your mindset and actually practicing them. It’s not about perfection, or expense. In fact, sustainable practices SAVE YOU MONEY!!

Let me know if you’re up for this challenge! Also let me know how your efforts to ditch the plastic grocery bags and to stop buying plastic bottled water are going! If you read through this entire blog post, leave me a comment on social media that includes a cute little shark emoji!

As always, sending you all the love!


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