Cuppa coffee anyone?

Deborah having coffee at the station

This article first appeared in April 2016.

This week (Jan 2018) Deborah was interviewed by Premiere Radio on the topic of “Should we pay 25p for disposable coffee mugs?” – You can hear the recording here, 20 minutes in.

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”.

Barbara Echlin



Author: | Date: 6 January, 2018 | Category: Church Magazine | Comments: 3

Comments on "Cuppa coffee anyone?"

ankara styles:

April 16, 2020

With this new virus around so many people need a coffee and a chat. Great read thanks.


January 17, 2018

Thank you for your comment. This is a worry. I'm not sure that teabags are safe in the long run, as the plastic will ultimately degrade (over several years) and then enter the soil as tiny particles, absorbed by earthworms and other soil-dwelling creatures. As far as I understand it, the plastic is not just in the sealing edging but in the whole bag, and is up to 25% of the fabric of the bag. One suggestion might be to break open teabags after use and separate the contents from the casing - so tea leaves go into the compost and the paper/plastic casing goes into household waste (not recycling). At home, as you say, we can use loose tea, and either strain it as it comes out of the pot, or if just using a mug, use one of the small metal perforated tea containers (often on a chain) that you can get from kitchen shops. In Germany people put tea leaves into muslin net on a metal hoop, which then sits in the tea pot or mug while the tea infuses. Then the leaves can be tipped into your compost bucket. Like you, I'm wondering with how to travel with my tea and flask! In the short term I will probably keep using tea bags but break them open once at home. Perhaps consumer pressure will enable manufacturers to find alternatives (apparently Tea Pigs use corn starch for their silky net bags). Deborah


January 13, 2018

I am trying to decrease my use of tea bags as I believe many contain plastic in the sealing edging. This is fairly easy to do at home, I have a lovely little tea pot, but not when out and about. Are tea bags safe to use on the compost?

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