There might not be a more common phrase at Trinity Western University than “You going to TWUSA for coffee?” It is the daily (or hourly) ritual of weary university students who hover towards the Douglas building between the bells that separate one class from another. They congregate at this oasis of life where a free cup of coffee will refresh their burning minds. Sometimes they have two, or even three cups a day. Why not when it costs you nothing at all? (Well, nothing beyond your student fee).
Unfortunately, the consumer capitalist society that we live in often removes the true costs of our products from our eyes. These costs are much more than financial exchanges, but include the environmental footprints we leave behind whenever we make or use a product and then throw it away. When it comes to “free” coffee on campus, it is not uncommon to see students tossing their morning cups only to fill a fresh one in the afternoon. “Recycling” is how we justify our extravagance. For us the blue bin means a warm “green” feeling. It is an indulgence that we’ve bought to cover our guilt. But the reality is that recycling is only a deflection of the problem at best, and a back massage for our egos at worst. When we pass our paper into someone else’s hands, we sweep our blind consumption under the carpet.
Last week, a survey was conducted at TWUSA to get a better look at this consumption. Over a five day sample period, the usage of disposable paper cups was recorded in order to find out what actually is the environmental cost for our daily fixes. Not surprisingly, Monday documented the highest coffee consumption with a staggering 597 cups used. This amounts to more than double almost every other day of the week. Next in order came Wednesday at 326, Tuesday at 248, Thursday at 243, and lastly, Friday which understandably lagged behind its antecedents with a low score of 187. If students drank as much coffee as they did last week for the full school year, that would mean that 38,472 cups would be used over a span of 6 months. For TWUSA this means spending $1,801 on paper cups which will spend 15 minutes in human hands, and years to biodegrade in a landfill. This is the minimum amount of waste that we are creating with our “free coffee” without taking into account the usage of cup lids or sleeves.
“The absurdity of all this is that just about everyone owns a travel mug and yet most of us continue to consume paper cups out of habit and convenience.“
According to Recycling British Columbia, Canadians are throwing away over 1.7 billion coffee cups every year. This is more than half a million trees. The absurdity of all this is that just about everyone owns a travel mug and yet most of us continue to consume paper cups out of habit and convenience. We need to take responsibility for ourselves if we want to keep our world. But if you did happen to forget your travel mug at home next time you need some caffeine between classes, that’s actually fine. This year, TWUSA has incorporated a communal mug wall into their coffee station which offers students not only the opportunity to save paper cups, but to slow down and have a conversation. After all, isn’t this what coffee is for?