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If you only do one thing this week … buy a mug!

October 28, 2008
By Adharanand Finn


October 28, 2008 – It's time to invest in a reusable receptacle for
all those cups of tea and coffee you get through at work, says
Adharanand Finn. Amusing slogans and mould are optional.

For most of us the average day at the office affords few moments of
genuine pleasure. Amid the endless hours spent staring into the abyss
of a computer screen a nice cup of tea can seem like a chalice of joy;
a reason to go on. So the last thing you need as you settle back down
in front of your spreadsheets, beverage in hand, is some eco-busybody
leaning over your shoulder and saying: "That's not a polystyrene cup,
is it?".

The thing is, though, climate change is a pretty serious
issue. On its own your throwaway cup won't make much difference, true,
but with 6bn disposable polystyrene cups binned in the UK each year it
is adding to a huge pile of non-biodegradable rubbish.

It is also
very energy inefficient to produce and transport a plastic cup all the
way from China to your office for just a few minutes' use. If we are to
avoid Sir Nicholas Stern's apocalyptic vision
of a post-climate change world in which 200 million people are
permanently displaced, surely these are the kinds of excesses we should
be curbing.


The obvious solution is to get a mug. It's reusable –
that's the eco bit – but it's also nicer to drink from. While a
polystyrene cup shouts work, vending machines and strip lights,
drinking from a mug feels like being at home. You can almost imagine
your computer is the TV, your chair the sofa and your shoes are your
slippers. Every way you look at it it's a winner. The warm glow will
not only be on your fingers, but on your conscience too.

before the eco-angels start playing their trumpets and guaranteeing
your place in heaven, there are a few caveats to add. A couple of
studies have suggested that a ceramic mug would need to be used
hundreds of times before it becomes more energy efficient than drinking
from polystyrene cups.

The findings of a study
by the University of Victoria in Canada, for example, suggest that a
ceramic mug would need to be used more than 1,000 times to out-eco the
polystyrene cup.

It may sound ridiculous – and indeed these
reports are not widely referred to, even by the disposable cup industry
– but the arguments put forward are not entirely without reason.

ceramic cups use more energy in their production. Secondly, there is
all the hot water and washing-up liquid used to clean your mug.
Thirdly, as ceramic mugs are bigger and heavier than polystyrene cups,
which can be tightly stacked, they require more ship and lorry
journeys, using more fuel. And, finally, polystyrene cups can be more
easily recycled.

The issue gets more cloudy when the researchers
begin comparing glasses with plastic cups when drinking water, or any
other receptacle against paper cups.

So, is a mug really
better? Well, if you look after it, keep using it and rinse it with
cold water after each use (or, as happens in some workplaces, don't
wash it at all), then it will still win out in the end. But it will
require perseverance, a steady hand and a safe place to keep your mug
so it's not pilfered by someone when you're not using it.

spreadsheet indicating the number of drinks consumed in said mug may
help focus the mind. Once you get passed the 1,000 cups of tea, coffee
or whatever you drink mark, you're probably safe. Best get the kettle