America’s coffee culture is considerably more brief than its European counterpart.
Time spent simply relaxing and talking is somewhat undervalued, as socialization is built around events; getting to and from them, with coffee and conversation entering that space as a pleasurable addition. Being on time for things is important in American culture, so there is this perpetual sense of urgency, hence the ability to get everything to go, reflecting a need to be mobile at a moments notice. Even if you decide to sit down and enjoy your coffee, it’s still served in a paper cup, just in case you need to get up, go somewhere, or don’t feel like continuing the social interaction.
This need for drinks to be in a state of constant mobility translates to 14.4 billion disposable paper cups. If you were to connect these cups they would circle the Earth 55 times and weigh almost 900 million pounds.
Many large coffee companies typically use cups made from post consumer recycled paper, which is somewhat beneficial for the environment, but it’s still not good enough, as these cups are single use only, and unlike newspaper and cardboard, are not recyclable. The thin lining that makes the cup waterproof, also keeps it from being recycled, and ends up in landfills.
Manufacturing the coated paper stock used in making coffee cups requires energy. It also takes energy to manufacture cups from the paper stock, and transport the cups from a factory to the coffee shops. All of that energy typically comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere.
The American culture of portability probably won’t change, but the waste can be easily mitigated by using insulated, reusable bottles. There are excellent models on the market today, and with many coffee companies offering discounts for bringing in your own cup, why not take the plunge and say no to paper, at least most of the time.