I have a confession to make. This isn't easy. As recently as a few years ago, I willingly and eagerly fed my addictive personality by participating in a contest that required me to waste single-use paper coffee cups despite owning an insulated travel mug. Based on the title of this post, my Canadian readers know what I'm talking about and can probably relate. At the risk of alienating those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, but in staying true to my values, I will not post a link to the contest website in this post. All you really need to know is that this yearly contest is run by a popular coffee chain, that the prizes range from a preloaded coffee cards to mountain bikes to cars, and that the nationwide compulsive consumption of coffee in single-use paper coffee cups began today and will continue for a few months. If you're wondering, I've never won more than a donut.
There are many types of people in this world. Some aren't terribly susceptible to the temptation of contests like these, while others dramatically increase their coffee consumption in a desperate attempt to win. Those who usually buy hot beverages from a variety of stores find themselves heading back, over and over again, to the same coffee chain - if they're going to be buying coffee, it might as well be from the store where they have a chance of winning a prize, right? Worst of all, people like me intentionally leave their travel mugs at home because the contest is won or lost right there on the single-use paper cup. My most shameful memory from the years I participated is of the day on which I brought my insulated mug to the store, had it filled with coffee, then asked for an empty, unused paper cup because I deserved a chance to win "in return for my purchase", which is how I think I put it to the employee at the time.
Let's take a step back and think about what we're really buying into. I believe we frequently ignore some pretty serious issues around coffee: society tells us to say no to drugs, yet most of us are physically addicted to caffeine, and our culture endorses, even encourages this behaviour. We support the local food movement, but insist on consuming large amounts of a beverage that is made from a bean that grows nowhere near here - and it's no special occasion delicacy, no, we want it multiple times a day! Sustainable production methods are important when it comes to the fruits and veggies we eat, but our favourite Arabica is most often grown in full-sun and fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive conditions, causing deforestation, the destruction of habitat in some of the world's most biodiverse regions, and soil and water degradation. While the friendly barista enjoys a decent wage and the tips we leave in the jar, plantation workers are exploited and farmers are unfairly paid for the harvest. Talk about bang for your buck! So many economic, environmental, and social injustices for such a low price.
But it's not enough that we want to pay a mere dollar fifty for 12 ounces of java. We also want a container for the beverage that will outlive its usefulness after being in our possession for about 20 minutes. Most importantly, at this time of year we want as many of those containers as we can possibly get our hands on. All for the thrill embodied in the few seconds it takes to unroll the rim of a single-use paper cup, revealing "please try again".
I was once there. I no longer am. If I want excitement, I'll find it in performing a taiko (Japanese drumming) piece with my fellow students in front of a large audience. If I'm drowsy and need to perk up, I'll go for a brisk walk around the block. If I want a mountain bike, I'll save up until I can afford to buy one, then bring my business to a local bike shop. This year, it's not enough for me to avoid the cups by boycotting the contest; I'm going to avoid the coffee chain entirely, at least for the duration of the promotion - possibly longer. So I'd like to ask those of you who usually participate in this waste-producing event: will you join me in rejecting it?
Photo credits: cup on sidewalk, cup and ashtray, cups in grass.