The consumer world’s attempt to cut down plastic waste has led to the widespread use of paper cups. It’s believed to be more environment-friendly than plastic.
Environment advocate and Clean Up Our Oceans Project (COOP) founder Anna Varona, however, begs to differ.
During her talk at the first ever Manila Coffee Festival over the weekend, Varona reveals just how devastating a paper cup can be to the planet.
In the United Kingdom alone, about 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every day. In a year, it totals to 2.5 billion.
Here’s the catch: paper cups cannot be recycled nor upcycled.
“A paper cup is not entirely made out of paper,” she says.”It’s lined with plastic so that it wouldn’t spill and break down.” A paper straw, for instance, would get mushy upon use. A paper cup does not, thanks to the same layer that Varona cites.
For a cup to be recycled, the paper and plastic needs to be separated. “We tried. We really tried and we were not successful,” she shares.
Unlike notebooks, bond papers, or newspapers, recycled paper or alternative fibers cannot be used to make paper cups. It has to be virgin paper or paper that’s never been used. About 80% of it are sourced from the world’s diminishing forests.
The solution that works
What’s the solution to all this waste then? Varona suggests going back to the basics. “Use your ceramic mugs, if possible,” she says. “Not only does it prevent you from producing any more waste, it also doesn’t change the integrity and taste of the coffee.”
She also encourages business owners to implement a deposit system, similar to soda bottles in a sari-sari store. “Let customers leave a deposit amount to take a ceramic cup to go and get the money back for when it’s been returned clean,” she explains.
But while she advocates being mindful of waste, Varona admits it’s impossible to go plastic-free. “Plastic is easy. Plastic is cheap. We all live a plastic life,” she says. She cites electric cables as well as IV fluid and blood bags as some of the materials that, without a doubt, need plastic to function properly and safely.
With what could be kept away from the ocean and landfills, like 16.5 tons of plastic, COOP has made school chairs in a project two years ago.
The entirety of Manila Coffee Festival itself is also home to CoOp, Greenspace and Greenantz of the Thoughtful Planet Pavilion, which makes technologies and methods for waste management available to many. One of them is their version of an eco-brick, which is a mixture of cement and about 100 ground plastic packets. Trays and crates made of discarded sachets are available, too.
“The most important thing is to make sure that your waste does not end up in the ocean or the landfill,” she asserts. “If it doesn’t end up in the ocean or the landfill, it will not kill animals and endanger our source of life.”
Missed the first ever Manila Coffee Festival? Watch this video:
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