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Take a moment to think about your morning beverage

by | Sep 20, 2010 | Archives

Tomorrow morning, while you queue for your morning beverage, take a moment to think about what you like to put it in. Many individuals have varying opinions as to what type of beverage container is actually better for the environment or more ethical. 

Over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion paper cups used by US consumers in 2006, using 4 billion gallons of water and resulting in 253 million pounds of waste.

Very little recycled paper is used to make paper cups because of contamination concerns and regulations. Because most paper cups are coated with plastic, both composting and recycling of paper cups is uncommon.

Is it the disposable paper cup, or its “eco-friendly” equivalent made of recycled paper?  Or how about the travel mug? 

There are pros and cons for each depending on how you look at each.

  • Are you more concerned with logging and the decline of the biodiversity in our forests?
  • Or the pollution of our air and waterways?
  • What about landfill waste versus the depletion of our natural resources? 

The list can go on and on. The point is, each of us values environmental issues on a more personal level. So, here is some information to help you decide which container is right for you.

Note: The Personal Energy Footprint here is calculated by dividing the Embodied Energy of a product by its Expected Lifespan (in seconds). 

The Paper Cup

Generally designed for single-use. The persumption is that the cup will biodegrade. The real surpirse is that it will take over 20 years. 

This was a surprise to me:

“A study by Canadian scientist Martin Hocking shows that making a paper cup uses as much petroleum or natural gas as a polystyrene cup. Plus, the paper cup uses wood pulp. The Canadian study said, ‘The paper cup consumes 12 times as much steam, 36 times as much electricity, and twice as much cooling water as the plastic cup.’ And because the paper cup uses more raw materials and energy, it also costs 2.5 times more than the plastic cup.”

A paper cup weighing 25g, with an expected lifespan of 1 day, is estimated to have a personal energy footprint of 25.33 watts. 
Consumption Facts: A Paper Cup

Source: Wattzon.com

The Eco-Friendly Paper Cup

These cups are also designed for single-use.  These cups are created using recycled materials (95% wood chip by volume) and therefore require the use of fewer new resources.  However, the energy used to recycle increases this product’s personal energy footprint.  A paper cup made of recycled materials and weighing 13g, with an expected lifespan of 1 day, is estimated to have a personal energy footprint of 44.81 watts. 
Consumption Facts: An Eco-Friendly Paper Cup

Source: Wattzon.com

The Travel Mug

Travel mugs are designed to be reused many times and are available in a variety colours, styles and features.  Presuming this mug lasts the estimated lifespan of ten years, an average travel mug weighing 326g is estimated to have a personal energy footprint of 0.38 watts. 
Consumption Facts: A Generic Travel Mug

Source: Wattzon.com

In conclusion…

The travel mug is the overall winner. Even if the travel mug lasts one year, its personal footprint would still be less than either paper cup (~3.77 watts). In addition, as most establishments discount your drink by 10¢, over a span of a year (5 drinks weekly) you would save enough for at least six free drinks.

Furthermore, the personal energy footprint of 31 eco-friendly paper cups, or 55 regular paper cups, is the equivalent of 1 average travel mug. 

You may check my math here:

1 travel mug @ 118,849,398 Joules divided by 1 eco-friendly paper cup @ 3,826,770 Joules = 31.05 eco-friendly paper cups for every 1 travel mug

1 travel mug @ 118,849,398 Joules divided by 1 paper cup @ 2,177,490 Joules = 54.58 paper cups for every 1 travel mug

Therefore, if you think you can make it to the 55th use, assuming you don’t lose, or break your travel mug. I definately makes sense to make the investment.

Remember, you can be green and save some money.

Action: Reuse to reduce NOT recycle to reduce



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September 2010