Those who know me well would be able to tell you I really, really hate trends. While other people can’t wait to jump on the bandwagon of what is most recently fashionable or popular, as soon as something I like starts ‘trending’, I won’t go near it with a ten foot pole. I am of course aware that in many instances I am consequently cutting off my nose to spite my face, but I can’t help it. Something about trends just gets my hackles up.
So it was with mild trepidation that I decided to persevere, despite the newly emerging trend, in gently but firmly compelling those around me to use keep-cups rather than the so-called ‘disposable’ or ‘single-use’ coffee cups.
My own adoption of keep-cup use began five years ago, on a trip to Taroonga Zoo with my Mum and siblings. Scattered throughout the Madagascan Lemur enclosure were a number of colourful signs providing statistics around deforestation and the impact humans are having on the natural environment. One sign in particular caught my attention wit its simple but devastating message; ‘It takes ten years for a single take-away coffee cup to break down’.
I was floored.
When I read that sign I was twenty, meaning my entire existence only translated into two cups of take-away coffee; a figure I was easily surpassing each and every day.
I made the decision overnight to change my consumption patterns. I can’t say I was perfect during those first couple of months, and I often forgot to bring my keep-cup, but when you love good coffee as much as I do, and refuse to use a disposable cup, you start remembering your keep-cup pretty damn quick!
Five years on, and I don’t even need to remember my keep-cup any more; having one at hand has become so normal that I am not even aware of doing it. Over the past five years I have also tried to model and share my sustainable approach to coffee consumption with those around me. Beginning with my family, this meant bringing a whole load of extra keep-cups with me when I knew we would all be out for a coffee. That way I would be taking the pressure off family members to remember to bring their own cups, while modelling good behaviour. With a few gentle prompts and reminders along the way, I have now got everyone to the point of remembering their own keep-cups about 95% of the time. Beginning discussions with my friends and work colleagues, again while modelling good behaviour, has also proven an effective technique; even if they don’t remember all of the time, being aware, and remembering some of the time, is a good start. Every disposable coffee-cup saved helps.
In the last year or so, however, I have not been alone in promoting keep-cup use. Public awareness around the terrible environmental impact of disposable coffee cups has grown thanks to shows such as ‘The Chasers War on Waste’ and consequent media dialogue. As a result of the increasing number of keep-cup brands on the market, a move towards more stylish, streamlined and ‘Instagram-worthy’ cup designs, and the introduction of keep-cup loyalty programs and coffee discounts at a growing number of cafes, the keep-cup has become something of a trend.
Which, if it wasn’t for the overwhelmingly positive environmental impact from increased keep-cup use, would make me want to roll my eyes and run away. I don’t like trends.
And, perhaps, for good reason…
Whilst I applaud the commitment of all those who have recently joined the keep-cup craze as a way of reducing their environmental footprint, as a comparative keep-cup veteran I would like to use my perspective to point out a small flaw; everyone is so busy going out and buying the latest (very pretty) keep-cup design that they have lost sight of the cup’s original purpose; to reduce consumption.
Rather than blindly following the trend by going out an purchasing a new ‘keep-cup’, why not make use of that first, original keep-cup design… the ceramic mugs and cups sitting in your kitchen cupboard?
I love drinking coffee from a ceramic cup. Not only does it feel good to hold and to have against my lips, but it reminds me that coffee shouldn’t be a grab-it-and-go experience. Coffee, good coffee, should be savoured and enjoyed to the full, and this is something more easily remembered when you have the weight of a beautiful hand-made ceramic in your hands.
In partially endorsing this latest trend, I therefore urge a word of caution. If you are new to the game and feel you need the structure and routine of having a designated keep-cup, by all means purchase one. The number of disposable cups you will save by using one keep-cup over its lifespan will far out-weigh the energy and materials (plastic, metal, rubber, bamboo or glass) required to originally construct that single keep-cup. If consuming less and having a smaller environmental footprint really is your focus, however, I encourage you to look beyond the trend to consider the even more sustainable solution; using the cups and mugs you already own.
I don’t like trends. I really, really don’t. And given my aversion to all that it ‘fashionable’ or ‘popular’, that is unlikely to change. I am trying to learn, however, to embrace trends for what they are; vehicles creating an opportunity for consumer-driven market change. I am also learning that in endorsing something ‘trending’, it is important to be selective and critical. Stand back and consider if what you are supporting really reflects your values and philosophies.
Drive trends, don’t follow them.