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How Old Is That Paper Cup?

January 23, 2011

We couldn’t finish out January without noting that this month is the birthday of the paper cup. It was 103 years ago, January 1908, when Hugh Moore came up with the idea, in the interests of improving health. Up until that time, people drank from the same tin or ladle, out of water barrels. That’s why the popularity of the paper cup grew rapidly in 1918, during the big flu epidemic still discussed today.

Now, thanks to the fast food and coffee shop businesses, tons of paper cups are produced which end up in litter, landfills and lately in recyclables (58 billion cups, it’s estimated). In response, coffee shops, at least, are taking responsibility, one chain at a time. Some are providing reusable cups to customers who stay on premise, and/or are giving discounts to those who bring their own cups.

Coincidentally, this month Starbucks announced they are using reusable mug cups in 50 Korean stores for non-takeout drinks. Come on Starbucks, you can do better. Why not do this in all stores, and especially in the U.S.? Starbucks’ website states that they are: ”developing recyclable cup solutions and dramatically increasing our customers’ use of reusable cups. .. .. we offer a 10-cent discount in the U.S. and Canada to encourage customers to use their own reusable mugs.”

Einstein’s DOES do better, charging only 99 cents plus tax if you bring your cup. That’s their refill price. Can’t beat this deal - sometimes it amounts to a dollar off. Some Caribou outlets, though it’s not national policy, charge around $1.75 for any size mug fill-up of their “Rainforest Alliance Certified Java”. Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the biggest national chains, doesn’t have such a policy – it’s up to the individual franchisers. You’ll have to get on the phone and let your fingers do the walking to find out which DD’s and Caribou’s near you give discounts.

And so, we’ve come full circle, as our century long love affair with the paper cup is coming to a close. It’s a good thing we all no longer drink out of a barrel, but if we did, we’d have to bring our own reusable cup rather than use paper ones. Just think – it took us 100 years to figure this out.



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