Are Reusables Better than Disposables?

So simple, a child can do it!  
*This cup has been used well over 100 times in the 8 months we've owned it.*

It seems logical that an item which can be used many times is more efficient than its disposable counterpart, which might be used twice if its lucky. Perhaps Jeb Berrier says it best:
"Think about it, why would you make something that you're going to use for a few minutes out of a material that's basically going to last forever, and you're just going to throw it away. What's up with that?"
Case closed. Right?

Wrong! In fact, you may be surprised that is a hot topic for debate. I've encountered very few who are staunchly anti-reusable. However, I've encountered more than my fair share of passionate “it doesn't matter either way”-ers. In my line of work, its unavoidable.

I set out to investigate what is the best choice (specifically talking about coffee cups here). Are you concerned with conserving energy? Water? Trees? Money? Are you concerned about food sources? Oceans? Waste disposal? All of these things are affected by the manufacturing and use of cups. But examining all those facets separately won't always lead to one definitive answer. There isn't always a “best choice”.

After poking around online and observing/talking to various subsets of coffee/liquid consumers, my conclusion is that – all things considered - reusables are better...but only if we use them. In order to offset the production and washing of non-disposable options, they must get the mileage they deserve, not sit collecting dust.

Here are some tips for picking out and using a good reusable travel mug.

  • Look for timeless style. If you are getting a season specific design, are you going to want to use it for the next 5+ Christmases? Think about getting a customizable mug and changing the pictures for the holidays instead. You can never go wrong with solid colors.

  • Look for cups with interchangeable parts. There is nothing more annoying than when the lid breaks and it renders the entire cup useless. Having access to a replacement lid is invaluable.

  • Consider your lifestyle. Are you going to be drinking coffee at your desk or will you be hiking through the urban jungle? Do you tend to break things easily? Consider whether you need durablity (like stainless steel) or a cup to simply sit there and look nice while retaining heat (ceramic).

  • Think used first. Thrift stores usually have a vast and varied selection of travel mugs. If you can find a travel mug used, you have just increased the efficiency of your eco-friendly efforts exponentially.

  • Use what you got. If you have a travel mug and it works for your lifestyle, then use it until you can not use it anymore. If it doesn't fit your lifestyle, then find a cup that works for you and stop buying more.

  • Refuse the paper/disposable cups and remember to bring your own! I don't want to have to break it to my children that the reason they have a beach covered in garbage is because me and my friends already filled up all the landfills with important items like paper cups and plastic forks.

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