Every weekday morning I catch the 6:58 am train from Chippenham to Swindon. And every morning I see people clutching their red-and-white disposable coffee cups from Steamers [Addendum: Since writing this, Steamers has become the much more environmentally-friendly Hearty Hare]. At five cups a week, subtracting four weeks for holidays, that’s 240 coffee cups per person per year. And that’s only if they have one cup a day!
I don’t blame them. I completely understand the need for a caffeine fix to jumpstart the morning. But the amount of waste this produces is incredible: 2.5 BILLION cups are thrown away every year just in the UK alone. It’s no wonder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chose to focus on it as part of his War on Waste. Besides the sheer quantity, the other problem with coffee cups is that they can’t be recycled. They’re not just cardboard: there is a plastic lining that can only be handled at specialist facilities, of which there are only two in the UK.
According to author Charles Duhigg, 40% of what we do each day is down to habit. Habits can be good of course—think going for a run first thing in the morning or brushing your teeth twice a day. But it’s usually bad habits that people think about, such as nail biting or snacking between meals. The key similarity? Habits are powerful: all it takes is a cue to trigger the behaviour and it is then carried out without conscious thought.
I see the reliance on disposable coffee cups as falling into the same category: it’s easy and convenient and before we know it it’s just something that we do each morning without thinking about it. Indeed, there are so many habits that we have unwittingly picked up in the name of convenience that add to the amount of waste produced. However, there are a few simple changes that can help reduce your “wasteline” and benefit your pocketbook if you just put in a bit of effort into starting a new habit.
- Coffee Cups: Obviously. There is such a variety of reusable cups to choose from, you are bound to find one that works for you, whether it’s a bamboo cup from eCoffee (good in the dishwasher but beware the microwave), a ceramic travel mug (I’m partial to the ones with designs from Kew Gardens), or a completely customised mug from a site like Redbubble or Snapfish. There are even collapsible mugs that can fit into a handbag or pocket. You can still get your daily dose of caffeine: all that’s needed is the habit to bring the cup with you! Check out MoneySavingExpert to learn about the discounts and offers available when you do so.
- Water Bottles: With the launch of Refill Chippenham, there are no excuses not to use a reusable water bottle. There are so many different types to choose from—metal, non-phthalate plastic, and even glass—and with the Refill app you can refill at participating businesses on the go, saving money and reducing waste at the same time.
- Carrier Bags: The 5p bag fee has significantly reduced the number of plastic carriers being used, and perhaps this is a habit that you’re already embracing by simply making sure to have a foldable bag stashed in your handbag or coat pocket, or larger ones in the boot of your car. Looking for something a little different for storage or shopping? Check out Box4Trees and their incredible folding boxes.
- Bees Wax Wraps: Maybe you already store food in reusable containers, but if you have a cling or aluminium foil habit, check out these wraps that can be washed and reused. The heat from your hands softens the bees-wax-coated fabric, allowing you to mould it around the edge of a container or wrap up loose food.
- Face / Cleaning Clothes: I admit this is the habit I’ve had the hardest time breaking. Traditional face clothes are great for a quick scrub in the morning, less so for washing off makeup at the end of the day without making a mess. I found myself relying on disposable face wipes, especially when travelling. Yet it was while travelling this summer that I came across the brand Human+Kind, which advertises itself as skincare with a conscience. Besides lush body lotions, they also do an incredibly soft microfibre face cloth that removes makeup, rinses out easily, and comes out of the washer looking brand new. I am a convert: two come in a pack so I have one for home use and another that lives in a resealable bag in my suitcase.Related to this are disposable cleaning clothes for around the house. There are so many different types advertised, for every room in the house and for every surface … but a reusable cloth, some cleaning product, and a bit of elbow grease will get the job done every time.
For even more ideas about how you can cut back on waste around the house, please see:
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Bathroom
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Wardrobe
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Out and About
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Kitchen
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Everything Else
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Get Social
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Gift Giving
Or sign up to be notified when the new Reduce Your Wasteline website launches.