I drink coffee. I love the stuff. But I have to say I’ve been wondering how mindful I’ve been about it lately. I decided to dig around a bit and get informed. I’ve adjusted my habit accordingly. Feel free to do so too because every little bit of care counts.
1. Don’t do disposable coffee cups. Just don’t.
You might already know that it takes at least 400 years for a coffee cup lid to decompose (actually, we don’t know this; every bit of plastic ever created still sits somewhere on the planet, increasingly in the guts of whales, fish and our children, and it’s possible that it will never break down), and that most of the cups themselves are also lined in plastic.
We also know that most of the lids contain BPA, a known endocrine disruptor (linked to breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, obesity, autism and fertility issues) that has been banned in many other products.
Disposable cups are a travesty for anyone with autoimmune disorders, too.. When the hot liquid passes through the plastic lid as you drink your coffee, it has been shown BPA is drawn out of the plastic by the acidity levels and the heat. BPA is a known thyroid/endocrine disruptor, a tediouschemical which binds to hormone receptors and impairs all kinds of really important endocrine functions. The particular plastic used for these lids is a denser form of Styrofoam and has also been shown to increase cancer risk. The thing about BPAs you probably need to know is that even low exposure can wreak havoc (particularly for anyone with an autoimmune disease).
Apparently we have more than one kilo of undigested plastic in our systems from ingesting our foods via bourgeois acroutements like takeaway coffee cups. To find out how to tell which plastics are toxic, check out my post on hazards to avoid. Most coffee lids fall in the 6 or 7 category. That’s bad. This also means they can’t be recycled. Take-home: Skip the lid. Or, waaaaaay better: Embrace a Keep Cup.
2. Ditto the ‘recyclable’ ones
Bluntly, they’re not being recycled in much of the world. In 2018 China stopped accepting recycling from the United States, Australia and a bunch of other western nations. Primarily due to it being so poorly sorted.
The bulk of our recycling is now being sent to landfill or stockpiled until someone can find a solution. Even pre-2018, only 9 per cent of plastic was being recycled.
Besides, how many people go seek out a recycling bin for their single-use cups?
3. And ditto the ‘biodegradable’ ones
Hmmm, well a University of Pittsburgh study found that the production processes rendered them more polluting than standard single-use cups. There’s the fertilisers and pesticides used in growing the sugarcane and corn starch from which the cups are made; the chemicals used in processing; and the fact that the discarded end-product is rarely broken down in proper composting facilities (do you take yours home and dig it responsibly into your compost?). Most end up in landfill or recycling stockpiles, where, deprived of oxygen, they release methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-eight times more potent than carbon dioxide.
(And besides, single-use anything will always come with a horrible price. Resources were used, burned, polluted to make it. And to transport it. And store it. All so that we can use once and chuck.)
4. Keep your ‘keep cup’ forever (don’t break it!) or use a jar or mug
Buying a reusable cup comes with a price, too. It takes twenty uses for it to come up ‘cleaner’ from an emissions point of view than a single-use one (the glass or metal is more resource heavy than paper and plastic). Which becomes problematic when people break or lose them before using them twenty times. The truly sustainable solution is to use a mug you already own, or to make your own portable version. I take an old glass jar (with a lid) and wrap it in a dozen or so of those rubber bands that your broccolini or kale come tied in to provide the insulated ‘silicon’ grip. I use a bottle opener to whack a small ventilation hole in the lid.
5. Organic only… and not just cos it’s bourgeois
Coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world. According to the CS Monitor, up to 120 kgs of chemical fertilisers are sprayed per acre of non-organic coffee. When you sip your conventional coffee, you’re sipping on the pesticide residues, which contribute to many health problems including cancer and miscarriages in pregnant women.
6. Better still, buy Australian organic coffee
Always buy certified organic Australian-grown coffee. All imported organic coffee is sprayed by customs in quarantine on arrival into Australia…so you’re still hit with nasty chemicals. No pesticides or insecticides are used in Australian-grown coffee as we don’t have the pests prevalent in imported coffee.
Hope that helps.