Mmm Sunday coffee, how I ADORE my fair trade, organic moccaccino from JustUs! a local coffee roasting company/cafe. I started drinking coffee out of necessity while in grad school; studying until midnight on a Friday night in a local coffee shop away from all the distractions in my apartment. If I was going to sit there for hours, I better drink something, and the most non-coffee/coffee order was a chocolate laden espresso heaven. YUM. Of course, they are ridiculously expensive so I gradually moved to daily cup of coffee, home ground and french pressed with a twice a week "fancy" coffee allowance.
JustUs! is a fantastic company, extremely community oriented and firmly entrenched in the fair trade and organic coffee/coffee accessory industry. The owners began importing fair trade beans by driving themselves down to Mexico, purchasing directly from the farmers and roasting them here in Nova Scotia. They now sell fair trade organic sugar, chocolate, teas and serve only local vegan/organic food.
When we come to drink coffee here (like we are today!) we usually order our coffees for here, even if it's only to drink in five minutes. According to "Sustainable is Sexy" 23 BILLION coffee cups will be used in 2010... most created by cutting down precious trees (9.4 million to be exact) and dumping them in the landfill. There is nothing more frustrating than walking into a coffee shop and seeing every single consumer sitting down, sipping their coffee out of a "to-go" container. I don't need my coffee to be the cause of felling more trees, using more water and spewing out more carbon. I get my coffee for here.
That being said, there are many times where I would like to drink my coffee while on the go, and a cup just won't cut it. This brings me to the "compostable" cup issue. JustUs! has been touting a "compostable" coffee cup for the past several months. They used to have a sign (no longer up), their staff pushes the cup as such and I've seen them several times dumping their compost bin filled with cups for city pick up. The hitch- these cups aren't "really" biodegradable.
This is the issue with supposedly biodegradable single use products, many of them cannot be processed in a backyard compost nor are they accepted by most municipal composting facilities. So... they all get tossed into the landfill. The liner is most likely made from bioplastic such as a corn-based polymer which requires those special processing facilities. According to Climate Change Corp, only 1% of bioplastics in Europe and the US were actually composted, the rest were sent to the landfill to release toxic methane gases. We also need to consider the corn-soy issue: by supporting bio-corn/soy plastics we are also supporting a ridiculous toxic industry where monocultures of genetically engineered corn/soy are grown using polluting pesticides and machinery.
Biodegradable/compostable products will NOT break down buried under piles of plastic bags without oxygen or sunlight... i.e. in the landfill.
When I asked for a "to-go" cup several months ago and voiced my guilt of getting it "to-go" the worker announced: "Oh, but these are compostable- so no worries!". To which I replied: "Yes, but are they compostable in HRM?" and he responded with a sheepish "no". Seriously? I do NOT need to be misled about the environmental choices that I make. How many other coffee drinkers think that they don't have to invest in a reusable mug as the compostable cup will do just fine?
Although the idea is fantastic, unfortunately Halifax's organics system definitely does NOT accept these (or any other single use "biodegradable" product) cups. For a short period of time several local businesses made a (completely impractical) decision to simply ignore this fact and to serve their coffee in bio-plastic, bio-containers (Smiling Goat Cafe and Pete's Frootique) in the "hopes" that the system will cave under the pressure. Right. Instead they misled hundreds of consumers into thinking they were making an enviro-choice while all the while continuing to add to our ever-increasing landfills. At the same time these companies could have been lobbying WITH it's consumers, educating their community and rallying petitions and letters to encourage HRM to improve it's recycling and composting facilities.
I finally decided to write JustUs! to voice my disappointment on their obvious "greenwashing" of their cups. The response although somewhat hopeful was also a disappointment. I'd like to point out that it seems unlikely that the sales manager had no idea about HRM's policy when the staff at the cafes informed me about (with their: "ya we just had a meeting about that") at least six months ago...
Thank you very much for your letter. I was recently made aware that the HRM does not actually compost coffee cups, but that the VWM in the Valley does. We have been talking about the possibility of pulling the cups as part of a petition campaign to HRM. Firstly though, I will contact the proper authority at HRM on this matter and determine the appropriate steps from there. I appreciate your interest in the issue and will let you know how things unfold.
I eagerly await to hear about how they are shipping the cups to the "Valley" (Annapolis Valley, about two hours away from Halifax). In the spirit of transparency, however, I would prefer if JustUs! would no longer advertise their cups as being compostable when they are in fact NOT (in HRM) and instead advocate for change through petitions, information sessions and rallies. I'm not sure how pulling cups that are already being sent to the landfill will result in a petition campaign against HRM... In the mean time, I get my coffee for here, or in my reusable mug.
My take home message: instead of continuing our habits in this disposable life, encouraging consumers to move toward reusable lifestyle is a more sustainable and environmental goal. I will choose glass, paper or plastic I know is accepted over "biodegradable" products that will simply end up in the landfill.
Article and photos copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com