Disposable Cups On Campus... I Guess You Don't Like Them

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Wow, it really really feels like you don't like disposable coffee cups!
In the past couple of weeks I have been getting an avalanche of questions about the infamous Nescafé booth which was on campus during the month of September.

I guess the whole story goes something like this.
  • Nescafé is invited by Community Life on campus for an event last year... Things go so well they are invited back for Welcome Week this year.
  • Nescafé hands out heaping cups of coffee to anyone who stops by their booth.
  • Things are going well again until... an infographic comes out announcing how many cups of coffee were handed out over the month.
  • There is a flood of comments on a Facebook post about the coffee being handed out.
  • The post is taken down and Coffegedgon begins...
I say the whole thing goes "something like this" because our office was not involved with the event. We just got a couple of sneers and complaints sent our way but we didn't pay much attention to everything happening until some articles about the whole thing got sent my way.


Since the articles came out, Community Life has apologized and said that they are deeply regretful about the incident and that the event was meant as a means of welcoming the community back for the Fall Semester.

I am personally not angry at Community Life or Nescafé for the whole thing... why would I be? This is just the logical extension of what society has been doing for decades... increasing convinience to the detriment of the environment. One could argue that Nescafé, who weren't even the only big company handing out free coffee this semester,  is no more at fault than every person that did not bring their own reusable mug.


Getting into the nitty gritty details about consumer versus producer versus vendor responsibility for disposable cups is not really the goal of this post. What I want to talk about are the concrete options for what can be done on campus to make sure that everyone can use or does use a reusable mug.
So here is the lowdown... a semi complete listing of all our options when it comes to the disposable cups we find on campus.

Offer better incentives
Did you know that anywhere you go on campus, you already get a discount on your coffee if you bring your own mug. Yeah, everywhere! And not just a bit of a discount... it actually adds up to a lot if you do it all the time - somewhere between $30 and $50 a year if you drink one coffee a day.

Muggy Mondays is one of those incentive based programs... bring a mug and good things happen. I like incentives as a model for change. Not just because negativity turns a lot of people off, but because I think that we could all use things that encourage us rather than discourage us.

But maybe these incentives are good enough... I mean there are still hundreds of people using disposable coffee cups every day on campus. Would more of a savings make a difference? Maybe just maybe more promotion would do the trick?

Create a cup tax
Study after study talks about how people hate taxes more than they hate almost anything else. So instead of more incentives, what about doing something that motivates people more vicerally?

Now I don't like using negative sentiment to drive action but I am not above getting results either. So imagine this, instead of giving you a discount for bringing a reusable mug, how about you just pay less for coffee all the time, but the catch is that disposable cups cost 20 or 25 cents?

The whole idea is that you get so angered by the idea of a tax that you change your behaviour. The tricky part is to not create apathy about your ability to make personal change without having to have a tax or some kind of intervention to make all the decisions for you.

Ban disposable cups
And then there is the idea of just banning disposable cups all together. This is the option I like the least because it takes away almost any idea of self determination. I mean, if you never get to make the choice to reuse a mug on your own, then what's to say that you will actually make that decision when you are in a place that does have disposable coffee cups.

On the other hand, maybe having a campus that doesn't have any disposable coffee cups could be a way of showing everyone that another way is possible. Maybe just the idea of knowing that alternatives do exist and they aren't overly cumbersome is what people need to see.

*****
So what do you think? Is a disposable coffee cup free campus a real possibility? Send me your ideas and let's see what we can make happen.

In the mean time, don't forget to lug your mug!

~jON - campus sustainability manager

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