January 10, 2011

How Many Paper Cups Will Die for You to Get Your Buzz On This Year? ~ René Cousineau

Photo Courtesy of bitmask

For Coffee Drinkers & Conscious Thinkers.

Just say no to plastic-lined to-go coffee cups.

For me, waking up in the morning is like being punched in the face by a 400 pound gorilla who then proceeds to drag me across the room while I remain unconscious and, for the most part, unwilling to become conscious. I pee for 45 minutes, brush my teeth with my eyes closed, slam a protein shake as if I’m being cheered on by a crowd of frat boys, throw on whatever and head to the bus stop. This sequence of events takes place pretty much everyday, and is the absolute worst part of my day, everyday. Why? Because it’s what I like to call the “pre-coffee shuffle,” and if you’re part of the 80 percent of the American population that drinks coffee, I bet you have one too. After all, coffee plays second fiddle only to water (worldwide)!

So, why do I let so much time get away from me in the morning before even indulging in a single sip of the world’s second favorite beverage? Because I’m a little bit of a snob and I like to get my coffee from the coffee shop. Furthermore, I’m a spoiled snob because I work at a coffee shop (Tee & Cakes), and if I’m on the job that means free, quality fuel all day long! Crazy, going to work is actually the best part of my day, isn’t that somethin’… If you’re a true lover of coffee, I’m sure you follow.

Let’s talk about how much we love coffee. We love coffee so much, that we get headaches if we can’t have it. We get grumpy. We get back into bed. In America, we love coffee so much that we’re actually the leading consumers of the stuff worldwide. The coffee industry has certainly not seen the worst of the economic crisis. We’re willing to pay upwards of 200 dollars a year on coffee. And if you’re ready for this one, in America, we drink approximately 400 million cups of coffee a day. Not each of course—separately we come in at around three cups a day (a quota that I manage to fill within my first half hour at work usually; that’s true love).

If we love coffee so much, then why don’t we marry it?

Well, let’s start with that 400 million cups a day shall we? Now, with a focus on those of us who prefer to get our coffee from the coffee shop as opposed to making it at home, I don’t know how many of those cups are ceramic. I don’t know how many are commuter mugs. If I had to guess though, based on the amount of reusable cups I encounter on a daily basis (not just at my place of employ, but at any shop I frequent), I would say they probably make up less than half of that number. So we’re dealing with a massive pile of paper cups.

And that’s only the most obvious issue facing the eco-conscious business owners and consumers of this day and age. Aside from paper waste we’ve got water waste, plastic waste, massive consumption of electricity, failure to compost… please stop me if you’re overtaken with terror. Of course, these things don’t apply solely to coffee shops. The food service industry as a whole could use an eco-makeover, as well as the patrons themselves. However, I’m zeroing in on coffee shops specifically because they tend to be more akin to the fast food style of operation than, say, a sit-down restaurant. I should hope that if you go out for a meal at a full-service joint, they won’t bring it out on a paper plate while you sip boxed wine out of a plastic cup.

I’m pleased to announce that there is a vast amount of solutions to these problems. Starting with that ever-daunting pile of paper cups—I have some good news and I have some bad news. The bad news: most paper cups are not recyclable (like those they use at Starbucks). The good news: some of them are, and others are even compostable! In fact, many Boulder coffee staples have already converted to compostable cups. A few of them even have compostable straws for their (compostable) cold drink cups! Coffee distributors usually provide the option of compostable cups, as do food distribution companies like Shamrock Foods.

One of these such establishments that has converted to compostable products, Boulder, Colorado’s Folsom Street Coffee Co., also uses wind power for energy efficient lighting and water. If that isn’t something to celebrate then I don’t know what is! Other clean energy options include geothermal energy and solar panels. The Green Restaurant Association is dedicated to making these kinds of eco-friendly conversions, and provide a slew of information and options regarding renewable and efficient energy on their website.

There’s also the issue of sustainable food. I’m talking grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, organic, local, hormone-free and antibiotic-free. At Tee & Cakes, for example, we get our dairy products from Morning Fresh Dairy which is local and all natural. We also, along with several other local coffee shops, serve Bhakti Chai which is micro-brewed right here in Boulder. Many cafés also have the option of dairy free coffee drinks and vegan pastries—animal-friendly and tasty to boot!

Then there’s the most important stuff of all, the coffee. A lot of fantastic local coffee shops use organic, fair trade coffees that are obtained from roasters and distributors that work directly with the farmers themselves. The coffee’s organic, the farmers are compensated fairly. Some popular roasters in the area that meet these standards are Conscious Coffees in Boulder (served at The Cup, Folsom Street Coffee Co. and this fantastic new poetry and book café on the Hill called Innisfree); The Laughing Goat gets their coffee from Kaladi Coffee in Denver; Tee & Cakes uses Novo Coffee which is also out of Denver. These are just a few standouts off the top of my head that I feel deserve a shout out for doing coffee right. And if you’re the conscious consumer that I know you are, you’ll give these coffees a shot and wanna shout about ’em too!

There is a multitude of things you can do to run a greener business, and an equal amount of ways to be an eco-friendly patron. A few more tips for the owners:

  1. Outfit your business with compost and recycling bins, so that they are both available to your employees behind the counter, and to your customers in the front. It’s also important to get excited about this feature, and to educate your customers so that your awesome new compostable cups don’t end up in the trash.

  2. Encourage your employees to use public transportation, walk or bike to work. Many businesses promote this idea by providing eco passes to their employees. At The Cup, they even transformed a parking spot out front into a bike corral that can hold up to fifteen bikes!

  3. For steaming milk, measure the approximate amount of milk you need to pour in the pitcher for each cup size. I’ve been a barista for almost 8 years and am proud to say that taking these measurements has really helped me keep tabs on my milk waste.

  4. Give incentive to those who want to participate in a greener coffee industry. Many places give a discount to those that bring in their own coffee mugs. At Tee & Cakes, you get free coffee and half-price specialty drinks every Tuesday for buying one of our namesake travel mugs.

And as a final note to my fellow coffee shop devotees, pay attention. Take advantage of these great solutions that your favorite coffee shop has implemented to help make the world a better place. And never miss an opportunity to relax. I know what it feels like to wake up itching for my initial caffeine fix, knocking people over to get it and then running out at an exponentially faster speed than the one at which I dragged myself in. But even still, there’s nothing better than ordering a drink ‘for here’, saving a disposable cup, and hunkering down to savor the moment. And if you just can’t bring yourself to finish that delicious scone that you impulsively purchased along with your non-fat, vanilla latté, don’t worry about it.
The scone is compostable.

René Cousineau was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, CO. She currently lives in Boulder and is a student of fiction writing and Russian literature. She spends her time reading, cleaning, hiking, dancing, and slinging cupcakes at a local bakery/coffee shop.

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