Monday, August 01, 2016

The disposables

One of the ideas that has been most destructive ever to the environment is actually a very short phrase.  "To go", as we say here in the US, or the "take away" in some other parts of the English-speaking world.

When I was a kid, if we wanted to drink tea or coffee, we had no choice but to sit down at the stall or the restaurant and finish the hot drink.  There was no concept of "to go"--unless we took a thermos or a kooja in which we brought home the drink.  The businesses washed (I hope!) the glasses and tumblers, and there was nothing to be disposed.

Snacks we rarely bought and, when we did, they were wrapped up in old newspapers, which also doubled up as oil-soakers thanks to which the snacks were that much less greasy ;)  Of course, banana leaves doubled up as both wrappers as well as plates for pooris and idlis.

Now, seemingly everybody other than me, rushes around with coffee-cups of concoctions that are rarely coffee and mostly liquid desserts.  Automobile manufacturers even proudly list the number of cup-holders in the vehicles!

How big are the numbers?  In the UK alone about 2.5 billion paper cups are used each year.  That is merely one country.  Think about other countries and, I bet, you too will find that to be staggering number to imagine.


Coffee, tea (or me ... hehehe) and other drinks, and then the doughnuts and burgers and fries and everything else we get "to go" means there will soon be a whole lot of stuff to be thrown away.  It is elementary, my dear Watson!

The "to go" culture has firmly established itself in the old country too.  To make things worse, the paper and plastic containers and cups are simply thrown away into stinking piles of garbage every few feet.

I am not certain that the solution is for appropriate disposal or recyclable cups and containers.  It is the "to go" attitude that needs a serious adjustment.

Seriously, are people so busy that they cannot brew their own coffee in the morning after they wake up?  Or are they that lazy?  In this part of the world, we have drive-through coffee places where cars snake up in the morning hours.  If they have the time to wait in line for coffee, surely they could have brewed coffee for those same minutes back in their respective homes, right?  I bet many of those customers sitting in their gas-guzzling vehicles are also bleeding-heart environmentalists ;)

A few months ago, when I was in San Francisco for a conference, I went to the nearby Starbucks for a cup of coffee and something to eat.  I ordered a scone and coffee, and told them that I was going to sit there and eat/drink.  She shrugged an ok and then handed me a paper cup of coffee. That's when I thought that the rare occasions I go out for coffee, I should patronize only those coffee shops that serve coffee in mugs that will be washed and re-used.

Hmmm ... all  these have made me drool for a cappuccino.  I will go make myself one, and have it in my coffee mug ;)


Ramesh said...

This is particularly your problem - the sheer volume of packaging of food that you throw away. The "old country" has one thousandth the problem you have although I will freely admit that we are trying our best to improve our position in the global rankings !

Although I am not sure what the tradeoffs are between using detergent to clean your cup (and hot water if you use a dishwasher) versus the energy to recycle a paper cup.

You could also argue that the energy that went into the fancy coffee maker you have that makes probably 3 or 4 cups a day, versus a Starbucks machine that dishes out hundreds of cups is a better utilisation of machinery.

Having said all this, I happily acknowledge that the good Prof brews a wonderful cup of coffee.

Sriram Khé said...

Hmmm ... even when we use a dishwasher, I think using a coffee mug about 100 times evens the energy equation, and from then on it is a net energy savings. Further, electricity here in the Pacific Northwest is one of the greenest on the planet. The oldest mug I have is from graduate school days--two of them from my first year. I keep things, my friend, though the wife I did not ... muahahaha ;)

My coffeemaker is no fancy gadget either. The simple cappuccino maker is almost 18 years old. The regular coffeemaker is an inexpensive machine.

India's problem, in this context, arises from its high population density, which is all the more why people cannot afford to throw things away--for one, the trash begins to pile up everywhere, and even if there were efficient garbage hauling systems along with people being responsible, there isn't enough landfill space, unlike the US. The disposables can be, therefore, much more of a public policy headache for you folks than here ...

But, if we forget the political boundaries and if we looked at planet earth, then wherever we might be, the disposables are not the most responsible behavior.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, btw, the coffee paper cups cannot be recycled because of the thin plastic/wax coating.

Ramesh said...

Btw why are you wearing a tie ??

Sriram Khé said...

And that too a black-tie ;)
At the event where the daughter and her fellow-residents were celebrated for successfully completing their programs ...

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