Why we don’t switch to reusable

“Dear readers, if you don’t drink from a reusable cup, what’s stopping you from making the switch?”

This question was asked of Planet Green’s reader’s in this post. In the piece, they make some compelling arguments as to why consumers should consider switching to reusable coffee cups:

“Take all the people who read this magazine, then persuade them to sip their morning coffee from a travel mug for one week. Result: Enough trees to fill two football fields will be spared the ax. Can’t commit to a week? Switching to reusable cups for just one day will save as much energy as using 1,000 gallons of gasoline.”

But regardless of how compelling these arguments are, consumers are not switching, at least not in large numbers.

We’d like to pose another question.  Why?

We feel that one possible answer to this question is that it is simply not convenient.

One of the problems reusable cups is that they do not fit within a consumers existing routine. If they’re commuting to work by car or public transport, or they’re rushing between meetings, a bulky mug, that requires cleaning, is not an attractive option, regardless of their desires to be eco-friendly.

While this is not excusable, it is understandable.  Eco-options, must be both sustainable and convenient, otherwise they will only ever appeal to the committed few.

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Posted in: Inspiration | Tagged: , , , , , | 21 Comments

21 Comments to “Why we don’t switch to reusable”

  1. bunterberg says:

    Just bought myself a reusable cup recently to test if it’s really that inconvenient. It’s not but in 4 of 5 times I simply forget to take it cause I am too well trained or buying a coffee is a too spontaneous act to consider it before it happens. And truely I don’t want to walk around all the time with a reusable coffee cup since I am not that addicted at all (2-3 cups during the early day).

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  2. admin says:

    It’s a great observation bunterberg. Personally I think of convenience as ‘ease of use’. If you forget it, for whatever reason, then it cannot be described as easy to use. If however, the cup was as important to you as your mobile phone, or keys; or as cool, iconic and sexy as say your favorite baseball cap, then the likelihood of you forgetting it would probably reduce. The real problem is that the alternative to the reusable cup, the paper cup, is the epitome of convenience, e.g. use it once and throw it away! We have to find a way to blend all three elements: 1. Ease of use, 2. Cool, sexy and iconic and 3. Sustainable

  3. knotnaught says:

    why I don’t use reusable cups:
    1. have not found one that is easy to clean.
    2. don’t want to drink out of plastic or aluminum.
    3. stainless steel and titanium if double-walled is ok, but can’t find one I can wash easily (i.e. fit my hand in) AND fit in my car’s coffee holder AND won’t slosh crazily when I drive.

    the paper cups don’t spill in my car (or at least not much), are easy to drink from, don’t need cleaning and fits just fine in cup holders.

    emulate all these (sans the no cleaning part) with a reusable and i will pay $100 for it.

    • Thom W. says:

      Try the “I am not a paper cup” reusable cup.

      1. It goes in the dishwasher
      2. It is ceramic
      3. It is the same size and shape as a paper cup (it even looks like one) hence the name.

      $20 or less new from Amazon.

    • David N. says:

      This is going to be a harsh response, but I will stand by it: Your reasoning that you “can’t find one [you] can wash easily (i.e. fit [your] hand in)” is such a BS response. I get the sense that this is just an excuse for being lazy and submitting to convenience.

      If a chimp can figure out how to use a twig to ‘fish’ for termites, I’m sure you can use some make-shift tools.

      Use any sturdy kitchen item (spoon, spatula handle, etc…) and use it to shove a sponge down the mug. I challenge you to try it out and tell me that it doesn’t work.

  4. Levi says:

    I’m not 100% sure that it is better to use reusable vs. disposable. I used to be adamant about using reusable mugs, but now I’m not sure. Here are a few reasons to why I think it might be collectively worse.
    1. many reusable mugs are plastic or metal. simply, mining is very destructive and energy intensive. and for plastics, many have harmful chemicals to humans and take hundreds of years to break down. Even though paper cups go to the landfill, it would seem that they would break down much faster and require less energy.
    2. and what about the water to wash the reusable mugs… seems like it would take much more water to repeatedly wash then what it takes to make the deposable…. maybe not?


    Any ideas on how many disposables you could make with the energy to make one average reusable? and what is the life cycle of the reusable…?

  5. nick gogerty says:

    I agree with Levi, it would be interesting to see the resource intensity of re-usable cups vs. paper alternative. Just want to make sure a cure isn’t worse than the disease. McDonalds’ had this issue when considering paper vs. plastic packaging.

    Any insights into environmental intensity would be most useful. Typically cost is a first proxy for energy or environmental impact as cost. This may also help to understand other constraints. ie. reuasable cup needs to be used X times for it to be effective.

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  6. Ren says:

    I think that many of the reusable cups make a difference in the experience and taste (mostly the difference being a negative one).

    I’ve tried many times to use a reusable cup and then forgetting to clean it. I’ve used cups and hated them (the metallic taste or plastic taste ruins your coffee). I had a “I am not a paper cup” mugs and I loved it for the fact that it was close to the shape as a paper cup, but it was not durable, I couldn’t put it on my bike, and it was a bit too tall and heavy (mine was done in the one time I dropped it). Minus these, I loved that mug.

  7. Toby @thebetacup says:

    @Ren Our thoughts exactly. Durability, easy to wash, easy to store and carry around and most importantly, does not impact on the taste of the coffee. As yet, we have not found a solution that meets all these criteria. The biggest issue for me is convenience, especially with regard to transporting the cup.

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Hi, Checking out the resources on the site –

    For those of you struggling to find a perfect reusable cup – if that is what your lifestyle demands – I highly recommend using a stainless steel lined cup. It is very easy to clean* (my ladies hand fits inside no problem), and very durable. Mine has no handle and takes up very little room in my bag AND fits in my car cup holder. I spent about $7 for it at Ikea Brooklyn.

    I have been using a reusable coffee mug religiously for about 4 years. Before that, I tried and failed for about 4 more. It wasn’t until a former boss created a humorous installation of all the coffee cups that had collected in my office over the course of one month, that I decided I had to commit myself to change.

    It was hard at first, finding room for my cup in my life, but eventually I got used to it, and discovered many bonuses to having it. For instance, I discovered it is much easier to carry around a solid harder to spill cup during my daily commute – whether by car or by train. No leaking, I can hold it between my legs, or between my arm and body if I need another hand. No spilling accidents while driving (and I drive a stick shift).

    All this said – If I didn’t carry even a small bag to work every day, I am not sure what I would do with the cup once I was done with my coffee… Perhaps an exciting redesign would be…I will maybe post these thoughts elsewhere.

    One more point – When people come to my office for meetings, I like to offer them a fresh coffee in a ceramic mug. In the past, people have already had a coffee in a paper to go cup when they arrived, so they declined. Now I make sure to tell people that I have hot coffee and tea on hand if they are interested. Honestly, only one person has ever taken me up on the offer, but I am still working on creating a culture of relaxed hospitality at my meetings. It used to be the norm.

    *If you are a black coffee drinker like me, on a daily basis I only give the plastic top a rigorous washing, and rinse the cup itself with hot water. I then give it an official wash on Saturdays. Is that gross? I somehow don’t think so (I once had a cup of black coffee in a reusable cup on my desk for 2 months. A friend came up and took a sip (eww) and his only comment was that it was cold. I told him what he had just done, we took a look inside the cup and saw nothing frightening. I wouldn’t do anything like that on purpose, but I think after that I was pretty convinced that washing my cup thoroughly only once per week was okay.)

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  9. […] than product design, however. Consumers know these products are out there but adoption is low (see Why we don’t switch to reusable). Vacuum flasks are still bulky, although Thermos includes a cup and Hydroflask has slimmed theirs […]

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  10. Kris says:

    I’m a travel mug fan! My sis gave me the best travel mug ever for Christmas, stainless steel, easy to clean, and vacuum sealed so my drink stays hot for hours. The base’s narrow diameter fits in my car’s drink holder and my bike’s bottle cage. I keep it (plus an assortment of other less perfect travel mugs) in view in the kitchen, so I can grab and go. A quick rinse is all it needs to prevent latte drips later.

    Unexpected perk of hauling around a travel mug all day: Can’t finish your drink after happy hour? Pour it in your (clean) mug and stroll home. (Only where legal, of course).

  11. skierpage says:

    Levi, your concern is unfounded. Harvesting raw materials, making something, packaging it, shipping it takes a lot of energy. A single cleaning takes far less.

    Cappuccino from a paper or metal cup tastes worse to me. Meanwhile Americans guzzle too much. 8 oz of coffee is plenty, even the “I am Not a Paper Cup” is too large for me. I just need a silicone protective lid for an Illy-sized cappuccino cup.

  12. juan rapido says:

    I’ve looked through this site and read the comments and while I laud everyone’s efforts, I have to call bullsh*t on the excuses for not using a travel cup. I carry a water bottle everywhere — and while it took a couple weeks to get used to, now it’s habit.

    Brushing your teeth, closing the fridge door — there are so many other little daily life activities which are simple habits. Using a cup is not a big deal. To me it’s a bit ridiculous to launch an idea-sharing, community-driven, open feedback site for a cup. So much work, press, and marketing to solve good old American laziness.

    In the meantime, let’s add a $.50 or even $1 tax to all paper coffee cups. That money would be used to create composting programs. While paper cups are not recyclable, they can easily be composted and their lids recycled. Don’t like paying the tax, then buy a travel mug.

    Or take a different approach and start including the true cost on goods we consume. Paper cups should be twice or 3 times the price if the companies producing them had to replace the water they use, and the trees cut down. Coffee shops would have to charge more for composting of the items they give away. Since we never pay for the true cost of anything, we have lots of environmental problems with our goods, not just coffee cups. I’m sure true cost of goods would definitely change the way we use things.

    But a better coffee cup? Sure, great start. Somewhat misguided, but what can we really expect from us?

  13. Good job. I agree with you.

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  14. Martha says:

    I’ve found the Keepcup
    to be a good solution. It just lives in my bag. No difference in taste that I’ve noticed.

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  15. Billy says:

    The problems seem to be inconvenience due to having to wash the mug, and forgetting to actually bring the mug.

    Why not address the first issue with a service, and the second with an incentive?

    For instance, coffee places already have the ability to produce boiling water en masse. Boiling water kills most germs. So, if people simply kept their mugs *reasonably* cleaned, coffee providers could just blast the cups with the water for a reasonable charge. And if your cup was clean already, no reason to do so.

    To help with the cost of this, coffee providers could charge an extra $1. That would get people in the habit of washing their mugs to save the $1. In addition, this could be an incentive to use the travel mug. Simply keep the additional $1 charge for using a paper cup, and suddenly people will have great incentives to re-use cups, AND to keep them cleaned themselves.

  16. […] solutions out there right now, like reusable or travel mugs. On the Betacup site’s “why we don’t switch to reusable page, they write that “one possible answer to this question is that it is simply not […]

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  17. […] solutions out there right now, like reusable or travel mugs. On the Betacup site’s “why we don’t switch to reusablepage, they write that “one possible answer to this question is that it is simply not […]

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  18. Mason Adams says:

    i always use Ceramic Coffee mugs because they are quite tough, i dropped them on the floor without breaking”.”

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