Saving a paper cup

flat-paper-coffee-cup-vectorA paper cup is all I wanted to save. A normal, regular, paper cup. I wasn’t trying to change the world. I wasn’t trying to stop global climate change. I was at one of many ubiquitous coffee shops in Seattle. I had some time on hand and as a good Seattleite, it felt right that I go to a coffee shop to enjoy a good cup of hot java. Since I was just going to sit at the shop, I felt it was unnecessary to use a disposable paper cup. Plus I like holding a heavy ceramic cup. There is something about sipping my hot coffee from a ceramic mug that feels much more peaceful.

I had asked for short (8 oz.) size. First of all, the cashier didn’t ask me if I wanted my coffee ‘for here’ or ‘to go’. And, even ‘for here’, ceramic cups were not an option they were asking for. I saw the cashier picking up two paper cups (since I had asked for ‘extra hot’) to note my order. I asked her if I could have my coffee in a mug instead. That stumped her for a few seconds. “No one asks about a mug here!” She didn’t say that. It was just her expression. It must have been a just a few seconds before she overcame the initial interruption to her flow of work. She said “of course”, and started looking for a ceramic mug. After searching a cupboard and then checking back in the pantry, she found a big mug, probably a 16 oz one, and asked if that’ll be okay with me. As long as the amount of coffee was still about 8 oz., I didn’t care how big the mug was. She had to explain to the barista so that she doesn’t fill it up. I had broken their standard mode of communication. She couldn’t write on the mug like on a paper cup. But what she did after that was what made me want to scream! She took a 8 oz. paper cup, filled that with water, poured that in to the mug to mark the 8 oz. level with the help of a piece of paper. Which was a smart way to mark the level, no doubt. She wanted to help the barista pour the right amount of coffee that I wanted. However, that paper cup was then promptly tossed into the garbage. So much for my intention to save a paper cup!

As I sat there and sipped my coffee in that large ceramic mug, I contemplated what just happened. Our system is setup to use disposables. The norm is to use and throw. The norm is to take your cup of coffee and go. Who has time to sit at a coffee shop, sip coffee, and probably do nothing? Not all coffee shops in Seattle are like that, of course. I’ve been to many small, mostly independent coffee shops, where people spend time chatting over coffee and ceramic mugs are not a rarity. However, the culture of disposables remain pervasive, even in those small shops. We use and toss single-use utensils without batting an eyelid.

The cashier here was intelligent. She wanted to do the right thing for me, even though I disrupted her normal flow of work. But I still ended up wasting a paper cup that I wanted to save.

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