New York has a coffee problem. The United States imports over $4 billion of coffee per year and New York City, by far the country’s largest consumer of java, can’t seem to get enough of it. The Big Apple boasts over 3,300 coffee shops and average consumption of Joe is increasing. Coffee is as much a part of New Yorkers’ diet as pizza, line-cutting and honking.
New Yorkers’ whopping consumption of coffee isn’t itself a problem. Research has long dispelled alarmist theories blaming coffee for heart disease and stunted growth. Studies have shown that coffee actually may have numerous health benefits, such as protection against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and certain types of liver disease – and that’s without counting its incalculable perks in terms of productivity.
Gotham’s coffee problem has little to do with coffee itself, and rather with the mountains of waste produced by single-use coffee cups. Half a trillion disposable paper cups are produced every year worldwide, and a hefty share of those are used and disposed in American cities, with New York being the worst offender. Somehow, the fact that single use plastics such as coffee cups are not recyclable (because of their plastic liner and coffee contamination) has not yet penetrated public consciousness. Like many inconvenient truths, it is glossed over and ignored.
Plastics such as the ones used to line single-use cups threaten the natural environment in countless ways. They are not biodegradable so it can take up to 1,000 years for them to disintegrate. Because so much plastic ends up in the ocean, microplastics have become a common portion of many marine creatures’ diets. As these plastics are passed up the food chain they risk finding themselves in the plates how human beings – an ironic form of retribution, some would argue. The United Nations Environment Agency estimates that only 9% of the plastic that has ever been produced was recycled, while 12% was incinerated and the remaining 79% has accumulated in dumps, landfill or been scattered around the natural environment. Our handling our plastic waste has become so catastrophic that a massive island of marine debris has formed between Hawaii and California. It is so large that is has been dubbed ‘the plastic continent’.
Unless there’s a rush in creating plastic waste that the environmentally conscious are missing out on, it’s hard not to think of our plastic cup problem as frustratingly easy to solve. Unlike the fuel that powers our vehicles and the natural gas that heats our homes, single-use cups are easily substituted with reusable and ultimately cheaper alternatives such as reusable cups and thermoses. Most coffee shops have started incentivizing their customers to bring their own reusable cups by offering them a small discount (usually 10 cents) on their beverage, but that strategy has not been effective – it’s estimated that only 1-2% of Starbucks consumers bring their own cups to the store.
We’ve taken it upon ourselves to find new and creative ways of keeping single-use cups out of New York’s trash. Goffee delivers coffee drinks in individualized and reusable cups to offices, simply collecting the previous day’s ones following each new delivery. We also exclusively deliver by bike, foot or public transportation, keeping the carbon footprint of each cup at a minimum.
It’s time for New York to clean its act up. Let’s take the plastic out of our coffee.