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.


  1. Long over due, but this solves the jar issue:

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