The Pessimistic, Coffee-Drinking Environmentalist

Starbucks is very proud of themselves for using 10% post-consumer recycled material in their paper cups. They save 78,000 trees/ year by replacing just 10% of the new paper cup material with recycled material.

Now, just to throw a coffee cup-half-empty wrench in this whole sunshiney picture: this means that 90% of the paper cup material still comes from new trees. Let’s just pretend, for the sake of drama, that they come from primary, old-growth forest. If 10% = 78,000 old-growth trees/year, then 90% = how many old-growth trees/ year?

And you thought you’d never use algebra again!

Let’s break it down:

{ if: .10x = 78,000; and: .90x= y; y = ?

{ x= (78,000)/.10; x= 780,000

{ then substitute 780,000 for x:

{ .90(780,000)= y

{ 702,000= y

So, by using one of those lovely cups, you are still killing 702,000 old-growth trees/year. Well done.

Go buy a reusable mug!! The owls will thank you.

This little exploration stems from two recent encounters I have had in coffee shops which refuse to reuse paper cups (namely: the shop in the student commons at Vanderbilt University, a building that claims to be “green” and is LEEDS-Certified; nor will they allow you to bring your own mug. Apparently it’s a “health hazard.” I also received patronizing glares at the airport Starbucks in Houston when I asked them to refill a Starbucks cup I had– I would have willingly paid full price both times!).

Edit: I just dumped a cup of coffee all over myself. For serious. Serves me right, I suppose.


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