Karen Lebeau | January 17th, 2018
“Just make sure your handprint (harmonious or regenerative impact) is bigger than your footprint (harmful or degenerative impact).“
Larry Santoyo (teacher and practitioner of Permaculture Design
As 2018 begins, many of us will have already considered the ways in which we would like to change our personal status quo and be a better version of ourselves.
For me, each new year begins with a review of the products and food I purchase, followed by consideration of how these choices could impact the environment. I then look for ways that my family and I can change our habits to have a more positive handprint to contribute less waste and reduce our overall environmental footprint.
Like many people, my family started using canvas bags instead of plastic many years ago, and since learning more about plastic waste we have continually adjusted how we live to eliminate the amount of ever-present plastic we bring in and ultimately send out of our home.
The single-use waste problem in Vancouver
Did you know that more than two million plastic bags, 2.6 million paper coffee cups, and countless foam takeout food containers are thrown out each week in Vancouver? In fact, paper cups make up 22 per cent of all litter found on the streets, and make up 50 per cent of all public waste bins in Vancouver.
The problem with single-use beverage cups
Which brings me to the main point of this article: single-use coffee/tea cups (cup, sleeve and plastic lid) seem to be synonymous with working life. I am often disheartened by the large number of used and discarded coffee cups that I see in the garbage cans at all the VCH hospitals I work at, and even worse, crowded in garbage bins and forgotten on streets all around the city.
I frequently see colleagues returning from breaks with single use cups, and on more than one occasion have noted that the cups, lids and paper sleeves are disposed of in the garbage at the end of the day.
I do not want to come across as telling others how to live their lives, but I passionately want to promote Earth care as something of high importance. I often wonder if in our busy days as health care providers caring for people, we seem to have forgotten that we also need to extend great care to the planet we inhabit. Earth care is synonymous with people care.
The fact is that most disposable coffee cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic tightly attached to the cup. This keeps the drink warm and prevents the cardboard from becoming soggy. But it also makes the cup essentially non-recyclable (by environmental degradation). It takes about 20 years for such a cup to decompose.
All parts of a disposable cup are recyclable
I contacted Recycle BC to inquire as to whether single use cups are recyclable. The representative told me that in Vancouver all components are recyclable. A quick internet search shows that many other municipal recycling programs offer the same option.
With a bit of dedication, anyone can refuse single-use coffee cups and buy a mug to fill your coffee. Even better, buy a few refillable mugs so that you always have them on hand.
If you must use single use cups think before you toss it off to the garbage and ultimately the earth. Take the time to recycle the lid and the sleeve in the appropriate containers. Rinse out the cup and pack it home to your own blue bin if applicable. If not, ask a friend to kindly take it to their blue bin for you.
Recycling at home of single-use beverage cups
- the cup goes in to the blue bin
- the lid goes in the blue bin
- the paper sleeve goes in the yellow bag
Hospital recycling of single-use beverage cups
- the lid goes in the plastic recycling bin
- the sleeve goes in paper recycling bin
- the cup is NOT recyclable and should be taken home for recycling
Learn more about recycling coffee/tea cups from the Green Care Team.
Interested in learning more about zero-waste lifestyles?
There is much to learn and a wealth of information online about living zero waste lifestyles and how to achieve it. Once you start considering and making change in your own life, you can’t stop noticing how much single-use plastic everyone uses and ultimately, discards.There is also a wealth of information about simple alternatives and subtle life style changes that are easy to incorporate and have lasting effects.
I encourage you to watch one of many documentaries about plastic waste and its impact on the earth. Plastic Ocean is a great documentary if you wonder what the real impact of our plastic reliance is and where much of this cast-off is ultimately ending up.
I challenge you to make 2018 your year to move away from single-use coffee cups, and implement creative options that help to create a healthier environment. With a bit of effort and thought, we can all be a part of the change.