Thursday, December 23, 2010

{Being Green} Reusable Mugs

TWENTY THREE BILLION cups is the estimated annual consumption of paper cups for the U.S. alone in 2010 [1]. In 2006, Starbucks reported using 2.3 Billion cups[2], 82% more than in 2000 [3]. Now don't you think that's a little excessive? Abolishing coffee is absolutely out of the question, the only thing to do is stop using paper cups.
Travel or reusable mugs instantly come to mind, however, making these cups create a bigger environmental impact than that of paper cups. Gee, yet another issue that hasn't a clear, easy, one step solution. Our efforts are not completely in vain, the key lies in the name, the REUSABLE mug. Sustainability Engineer Pablo Paster conducted a study which revealed that after 24 uses, a stainless steel mug becomes the better option. With an average of 3000 uses the initial investment, for both the environment and your wallet, pays for itself [4]. If you remember to bring your mug every time you heat to Starbucks, you could save up to $300. Much better than a slap on the belly with a wet Kipper. (Translation: Better than nothing.)  

The Concept:  Pledge to always bring a mug or go without (or sit and sip).
What you need: 1 Reusable Mug, a good memory and a will of steal.

How to: The hardest part of this scheme is to find the perfect mug to fit your needs. I've put together a summary of my experiences with paper cup alternatives for your enjoyment.

Option 1 - If you are mostly in your office and have only a few steps between the coffee machine and your desk, the simplest and cheapest option is to bring a mug from home.

Option 2 -  The Student option - I chose this option for sometime during college, it was convenient, multipurpose and fit in the side pocket of my backpack : the Mason Jar. Being in glass meant not only could I use it for coffee and tea but it could also substitute for a soup bowl, a water bottle, a snack holder, and much more. It was great! The leak proof screw on lid made it possible for me to throw it into my backpack and run without fear of covering my term papers or overpriced school books with coffee. The only problem is not being able to drink on the go. Do not attempt to drink in the bus, believe me, its more trouble and mess than it's worth.
Option 3 - I'm Not a Paper Mug - I must admit I am partial to the look of this option, not to mention being able to drink out of ceramic instead of plastic or stainless steel makes it very appealing. It comes in various colorus (depending on the company) and are under $20. However, these mugs equipped with a silicone top are a leak waiting to happen. It's best kept for someone who can wash and dry it before putting it back in a bag. Oh and not for butterfingers. 

Option 4 - Travel Mug - The most diverse option. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and price range. The most important thing to consider is the lid; it will make the difference between spill and no spill. The lids in the following picture have a high risk of leaking if not in a perfectly upright position. They are also the most common lids and generally associated with the cheapest cups.

Here are, in order or price, the best spill-proof lids I have encountered.

The Rubber Stopper

The first kind regroups all mugs that have a plastic flap with a fitted rubber stopper. If you remember to close it you won't have any problems.

The Twist

The second kind, which I have only encountered at Starbucks have a twist top which opens in the middle. The concept is comparable to that of a thermos lid. It is harder to clean that the Rubber Stopper and can sometimes be hard to open. I used the Starbucks recycled tumbler for 3 years before it cracked and I had to purchase another.


The last option is a recent addition to my inventory - the Auto-seal mugs brought to you by Contigo (sold at select Starbucks and online). As opposed to the other mugs, you must press the button to drink; releasing causes the opening to automatically shut avoiding all possible spills.

I have presented you with various options solely based on size and lid style. I am still researching which material is the best. For now, choose a plastic that is BPA free, avoid heating up your coffee in your plastic mug and carefully prewash all reusable mugs. I strongly recommend drinking out of a stable material such as glass or pottery to avoid any possible transfers.

If you are interested in reading more discussions on the perfect mug, you may want to read the following:

Kitchen Scoop by Alicia Ross: She asks her readers to share their experiences and what their favorite mug is.

Jolly Mom who reviews the Contigo Auto-seal mugs.

Sustainability is Sexy gives you the facts about paper cups and mugs.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, hopefully it will help you find the ultimate reusable mug.

Take care!

[Edit: I am sorry for those that were expecting this post Monday and then Wednesday. I put the wrong year when I entered the date on the Scheduler. I'm already in 2011 baby! Sorry for keeping you waiting. - Emilie]
Picture credits - all pictures are linked to their original site.
[1] Tully’s Coffee.  Press Release. September 16th, 2007.
[2] Environmental Defense.  Starbucks Paper Project Goals and Results. July 20th, 2007.
[3] Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility Report.  Fiscal Year 2006.

[4] Sustainability is Sexy. August 2009. [Online] Visited on Dec. 20th, 2010.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Winter Solstice and the Total Eclipse of the Moon

Did you see it? This morning between 1:30 and 5:00am if you looked up at the moon from anywhere in North America, you could see the various phases of a Total Lunar Eclipse happening high up in the night/very early morning sky. It was magical although exhausting.

A Lunar Eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon. The moon, which normally reflects the light of the sun, enters and exits the Earth's shadow as it revolves around us in the night sky blocking solar radiation and appearing darker. Contrarily to the Solar Eclipse, there is no danger in looking directly at the astronomical phenomenon. With the bases being laid, lets move on the the story.

Some of my friends (Hey Ladies!) were down visiting from Montreal and had a hotel room near Madison Square Garden. We hung out in the room watching a healthy mix of MTV and Discovery Channel - witnessing Teen Pregnancy, the struggle of youth with albinism and learning about Cleo, the Everglade Crocodile. We took turns on Moon Watch, monitoring the progression of the Lunar Eclipse through the window while others dozed. When the eclipse had reached 3/4, we bundled up and made our way onto the roof for a better view. Camera and clothing wise, we were poorly equipped. I snapped a couple picture with my faithful Sony Cyber-shot. It was fantastic! The great view of both the city and the moon was worth the long hours.

A lunar eclipse may not be a particularly rare occurence, on average you can see two a year. However, this one was special. In addition to being a Total Lunar Eclipse, it also happened on the Winter Solstice - the longest night of the year. This hasn't happened in 372 years Jeremy Olshan quoted Nasa saying in his New York Post article "Dark Side of the Moon for Gotham". 

Olshan also informed us that the moon would be high in the sky [check] and would glow and eerie brownish red because of the tons of dust released into the atmosphere by the volcanic irruption in Iceland that happened earlier on this year [check]. However, he told us to look out our window around 1:15am, but unless you had a telescope, you saw little difference until 1:30am - at least we were ready.

What's nice about a lunar eclipse, is that it lasts for hours from beginning to end and the totality phase lasts an hour. Knowing this, hubby, bestman and I said farewell to our friends at 3:00 and headed to the subway to watch the rest from the comfort of our own roof top. Public transportation being what it is in the early hours, we arrived at 4:40 and there was only a sliver left. Disappointment. Regardless, I had a great photo op walking home of the moon nearing the end peaking out from behind the church, a beautiful sight that my camera failed to capture adequately but one that I will keep in mind forever. I need a new camera Santa.

Take Care!

P.S. If you were waiting in anticipation for the post about reusable mugs, it will be up tomorrow at 8:00am.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Greening the Advent Calendar

There is nothing like counting down the days to Christmas by opening little doors and eating treats. Yes, I am talking about the Advent Calendar. (Having chocolate first thing is the morning is a great way to start the day.)

I can't recall when my Mum first introduced me to the concept, but I have loved it ever since. Even now, when I live in New York with my husband, she sent me a wonderful Cadbury Chocolate Advent Calendar. What a treat!

But in the optic of reducing waste produced by the holidays, a reusable advent calendar would probably be a better choice for the future.

While walking around Target, I found these adorable wooden Advent Calendars. They cost just under $30 and will last you a life time. However, you need to buy little treats each year. Which means you get better quality treats and they don't all have to be food.

The main issue I have with them is that the numbers are in order, I enjoy the challenge of finding the little numbers.These are the only options out there. If you have a minute, or if you need a minute, Google "Advent Calendars", there are some wonderful things being made.

What's your advent calendar look like this year?

Take care!

Monday, December 13, 2010

{Being Green} Starbucks

A recent article published on Environmental Leader, Energy & Environmental News for Business  brought me great joy. Coffee drinkers everywhere, rejoice! Drinking coffee is on its way to becoming less damaging to the environment.

Starbucks is working on having 100 percent of its cups being reusable or recyclable and offer front-of-store recycling in all of its locations by 2015.

With two recycling pilot projects underway, Starbucks Coffee Company is well on their way to attaining their goal. Their first pilot test proved that their paper cups can be recycled into new cups. This project has stirred much excitement as the positive results could be used to change to future of the entire food industry as quoted from the vice president of International Paper Foodservice, Greg Wanta, since it increase recycling rates across the country.

Currently, Starbucks is testing its recycling program in 86 of its Manhattan stores and will be setting up a similar program in Chicago at the beginning of next year. Past successful projects include store-front recycling bins in Toronto and Seattle and composting in San Francisco. Statistics published in June 2010

Although shareholders voted down a motion to increase recycling at this year's annual meeting, 11% were in favor and we can only hope that more shall join in the movement to get this huge multinational onto the green bandwagon. For the time being, our best course of action is to encourage local stores to promote reusable mugs and green standards.

Remember to as for your $0.10 discount when you bring your own mug (in the U.S and Canada). I speak from experience, most cashiers seem not only to be completely unfamiliar to the concept of Bring-your-own-mug but also unaware of the discount, BUT it's there, online, sepia on grey - demand it.
Also, if you are are planning to sit and sip your coffee, ask for a ceramic mug. They don't have any, they should.

Interested to learn more, visit Starbucks online. They have informative videos and stats. Here's the link:
Recycling & Reducing Waste| Starbucks Coffee Company

Coming next week : How to choose the best reusable mug.

Take care!

References :
"Starbucks Turns Used Cups into New Cups." Environmental Leader. 20 Nov. 2010. [On line] 12 Dec. 2010 .
"Starbucks Recycling Cups at Chicago, Seattle Stores." Environmental Leader. 29 June 2010. .[On line] 12 Dec. 2010 .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Curious Happenings in Central Park

One of my favorite things to do in New York, is walk around Central Park. I try to go there as often as possible to get out of the fast pace life in the city and see what masterpieces Nature has produced. Whenever I go and regardless of with whom I walk, I unfailingly end up at the Model Boat Pond.
 I don't mind, it's a great place to be. Birdwatchers know that it's the best place to do some serious Hawk watching as Pale Male, the resident Red-Tailed hawk, has built a nest on one of the 5th avenue buildings. Interested? You should read Red-Tails in Love by Mary Winn, a great book I wrote a short review about earlier. You can read about it by clicking here

It's also a great place to get some people watching in. There are people sailing model boats or driving speed boats, lovers holding hands, artists, readers, ducks paddling and kids all around.

My first visit taught me that you can earn a living dressing as a fairy and dancing for money - to everyone's delight. This particular fairy lives in my neighborhood, my friends and I just happened to take the same train as her one morning. It created quite a stir in our little group of fairy fans. We lost track of her on 81st street, near the Natural History Museum - our destination.  We hadn't managed to snap a picture but the Model Boat Pond provided both a great view of the fairy and Pale Male (the reason for our visit). 

But that's not all, besides, the boats, the ducks and the fairies the pond has something else to offer : FISH. 
I first noticed the presence of fish when my husband and I wanted to see how deep the pond was. To my delight,as I carefully leaned over to edge, I could see hundreds of little fish, mostly brown with some bright orange ones thrown into the mix. How wonderful! I shared my excitement with the nearest kids and together we watched the wee fish swim around just out of reach under the surface. Once I had used up my hubby's patience, we moved on only to witness this feeding frenzy happening on the other side of the pond - this was in the beginning of November.  Someone had thrown bread crusts into the pond, probably for the ducks. The ducks didn't stand a chance! These fish were hungry. Piranha fans eat your hearts out!

Have you seen something quite like this? If so where, when, with who and why?
Have you seen the Central Park fish? Do you know what kind they are?

Take care!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

{Pearls of Wisdom} Of Teeth Brushing and Water Wasting

 Turning off the water while you brush your teeth can save up to 5 gallons of water .

Take care!

Under the cap of Snapple Ice Tea

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