Eco-disposable cups are still mugging the environment

Op-eds Opinions
Illustration by Leone Brander
Illustration by Leone Brander

The University of Victoria often associates itself with a persona of progressiveness and sustainability. Our community projects a sense of environmental hippyism that is only reinforced whenever I converse with the public while sporting shaggy hair, a beard, and a comfortable wool sweater, a classic UVic menswear combo. But are we really living up to our reputation?

There have been a few campaigns on campus that question our West Coast brand of environmentally friendly hopheads. Take for example the proof of our coffee-addicted lives: the endless waste cycle that fills our garbage bins. The stat that stands out: UVic disposes of 3 000 coffee cups every day.

The transition to eco-disposable cups here on campus is an improvement, but doesn’t go far enough in promoting sustainability or addressing the overall issue. These single-use cups can be composted, reducing end-of-use impacts on the environment, but are still energy and resource intensive because they follow a linear waste cycle. Trees, transportation, water, and chemicals are constantly funneled into the refinement process for coffee cup production: trees clear cut to be manufactured, through an intense chemical-heavy, water-wasting process, into a product then trucked to hands which promptly discard them. Every time you use a disposable cup you are sending the signal to continue the take-make-dispose pattern. Eco-disposable cups are a band aid solution that inadequately addresses the root problem.

It seems confusing that the university and its business establishments would tarnish our reputation with this passive-aggressive approach to sustainability. As social media continues to flood our eco-friendly sensibilities with the ills of linear consumption chains, waste-conscious consumers can take part in creating a paradigm shift. The consumers that respond to these guilt inducing messages are helping pioneer a sustainable future. However, like most normative changes in society, this paradigm shift is crawling into existence as new habits overcome old habits. I argue that arming our students with travel mugs is one way to increase velocity towards sustainability.

To aid in this I would propose that coffee locations, especially BiblioCafé, sell affordable travel mugs to the community. Accessibility removes the capacity of a successful excuse. As well, further incentives can include a free coffee in your new mug and an understanding that using mugs comes with a discount. I would also encourage students to check out Value Village and other thrift shops for used travel mugs as a very cheap alternative, and more environmentally friendly to boot. I picked up my mug for $5. For the already converted, I encourage you to  peer pressure your friend group to adopt a travel mug and mean mug strangers with disposable cups in hand.

Eco-disposable cups are necessary but insufficient in solving the problem at hand. It’s like decaf on a Monday morning: it smells good, but it doesn’t really do much.