This article first appeared in April 2016.
No one likes to see things go to waste: it’s just common sense. We teach young children to finish their dinner and not throw away food, but how many of us blithely drink a cuppa coffee and give no thought to the cuppa? Would you believe that 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups a year are thrown away in the UK? Campaigners say 399 out of every 400 are dumped and that makes 2.5 billion a year.
Most of the cups are made from trees that take 80 years to grow. Their plastic lining (polyethylene) makes them difficult to recycle and only two facilities in the UK have the necessary machinery. Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth said “It shouldn’t be rocket science to ensure coffee cups are recycled in the UK. The public should be able to expect better.” What can we do about this? Cups can be made from material that is either compostable or recyclable. Maybe we should start asking questions the next time we buy a cuppa in a large high street chain coffee shop.
Some people are taking things a step further. One suggestion is to always carry a mug and ask for hot or cold drinks to go into it. That will cause problems in many cafes and shops but it’s something else to ask about, along with “Is the coffee you’re serving made by Nestle?”. To make it easier for the café we could measure in millilitres or fl oz the capacity of our thermos mug. That way we could tell the people behind the counter the capacity, so that they know whether to charge us for small, medium or large. This does happen in some places in the US. The key will be in getting Costa etc to recognise this will be good for their eco-credentials.
Deborah from Bristol doesn’t have to commute, and her own special method wouldn’t work on commuter trains, so it’s maybe not something to copy first thing in the morning! When she travels she takes a large (1 litre) metal thermos of hot water (which astonishingly keeps water hot for 24 hours). She also takes a mug, a small bottle of milk, a teaspoon, and various tea bags. She makes her own hot drinks on the go – trains, park benches, etc. She gets some funny looks but also lots of people say “What a good idea”. Her children think it’s unbearably eccentric. This started as a way of saving money, but now she prefers it. The thermos water never tastes funny, tea doesn’t get stewed and it’s always just as she likes it. Also no waste. She saves the teabags if she is close to home and they go on the compost. All good common sense.
It is indeed common sense to avoid wasting the Earth’s finite resources. But in Laudato Si’ Pope Francis calls the Earth “our common home”. Maybe taking care of our common home is also part of what it means to live a Christian life? And maybe instead of talking about resources we should talk of God’s gifts and our shared responsibility to take care of them? As American theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson says, “A flourishing humanity on a thriving planet rich in species in an evolving universe, all together filled with the glory of God: such is the vision that must guide us at this critical time of Earth’s distress”.