J500 Media and the Environment

can serving coffee in polystyrene cups be the ‘greener’ choice? by jessicasb

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how two of my favorite coffee shops use polystyrene cups, one of those making the switch very recently. It was this latter coffee shop where I talked with a barista about their use of polystyrene cups.
polystyrene cups
A few months ago, this coffee shop was serving drinks in paper cups with java jackets. The owner of the shop stopped buying java jackets, and as any avid coffee drinker would know, the feeling of holding a hot cup of morning joe in a paper cup with no java jacket is definitely uncomfortable. “People were taking two cups,” the barista said. For the sake of saving money, and preventing people from taking two cups for every drink, they switched to the polystyrene cups.

“I was getting cussed at by customers” after the switch, she said. So she typed up a polystyrene fact sheet that’s posted on the shop’s register. It says polystyrene is 95% air and is recyclable, among other points. But is the fact sheet misleading, considering polystyrene is not biodegradable and hardly any students who frequent the shop would actually recycle their cup?

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make working here,” the barista said about making the switch. But she said after looking into polystyrene, it wasn’t “any worse” than doubling up on two paper cups or using a paper cup and a java jacket.

The barista seemed open to discuss other environmental options, and really sympathized with customers’ defiance of their new cups. She said the coffee shop would have a new owner soon, and would possibly switch back to paper cups and java jackets then.

In the meantime, serving in polystyrene cups has shown a more environmentally friendly trend emerging from this shop’s customers.

“If we used paper cups, no one would bring their own cup,” the barista said. “No one wants to use foam, so everyone is bringing their own cup now.”

— Jessica Sain-Baird

This post is a follow-up to my post, “How much responsibility should your coffee shop have?” Thanks to Fillmore Photography for the image.