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Reusable To-Go Coffee Cups Are Brewing

Sandy Connell, Maria Mayanja, and Mai Nguyen pose in the lobby of the New York Media Centre in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood where they study at the DO School. Photo taeken by Claire Pires

Sandy Connell, Maria Mayanja, and Mai Nguyen pose in the lobby of the New York Media Centre in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood where they study at the DO School. Photo taken by Claire Pires

HOST INTRO: Americans use an estimated 16 billion paper coffee cups annually. Students from around the world in a Brooklyn training program think they have a solution. Claire Pires reports.


More than six million trees have to die to produce the amount of paper coffee cups Americans use. Maria Mayanja, a student from Rwanda, says her classmates at the DO School asked themselves about Americans.

MAYANJA: Why do they use disposable cups? It’s convenient. Some people think it has a sexy look to it.  So we thought ok is this cup being recycled at the moment?

 It isn’t. The students created the “Good To Go Cup.” It’s made of polyethylene; the same material that makes Coke bottles. Costumers buy coffee and then bring their cups back to any café that’s participating, which washes and reuses the cup. All the customer has to hold onto is the lid. That’s for sanitary reasons.

 Starbucks sells a similar cup, but Katherin Kirschenmann, who runs the DO School, says the “Good To Go Cup” is different.

KIRSCHENMANN: The whole idea about the program we’re launching is to increase the convenience. You don’t have all of these issues of schlepping it around for the next ten hours and so that is the key difference to everything that’s out there.

Students thought about even tagging the lids to let customers score points for discounts. They thought customers could put their lids on key chains or on bicycle helmets, but that meant the lids would be exposed and possibly unsanitary, and the students haven’t solved that problem yet.

 So far, one café is participating. The Brooklyn Roasting Company. Co-owner Michael Pollack knows he’ll have to wash more cups, but that doesn’t worry him.

POLLACK: I think, if I was to look at it from a dollar-cents perspective, just the cold-hard numbers, the increase cost for electrical and water to wash and reuse, versus the straight up cost of cups, it’s not even a close comparison.

Pollack, who sat next to a cappuccino machine in the company’s café and warehouse in DUMBO,

AMBI: Steaming milk FADE UP AND DOWN

spends about one-hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars on paper cups every year.

POLLACK: If I could move away from paper cups, it changes the way we do business.

So much that he’s gonna give a discount to anyone who participates in the “Good To Go Cup” program.

Cecil Scheib is the CEO of the Urban Green Council of New York. He thinks this idea is great. He says people forget that making paper requires a lot of water.

SCHEIB: You know a paper cup can use anywhere from half a gallon to several gallons of water to manufacture it, so unless you think you’re using, you know, a gallon of water to wash your coffee mug, which obviously you’re not, you’re saving water.

Scheib says this system uses less water and less energy.

But Samantha MacBride isn’t so sure. She teaches environmental policy at Baruch College. She says it’s hard to know for sure how good this will be for the environment.

 MACBRIDE: You’d have to go in and take very precise measurements of the energy and water usage at that particular place and then compare that to a whole host of metrics for what the alternative was.

 But, she knows customers will like it.

MACBRIDE: There seems to be more and more of a demand by at least some consumers for products that offer environmental benefits so I would say that probably yes it’s a good business plan.

 DO School student Maria Mayanja thinks this could be good for the future.

 MAYANJA: So at the end of this, who knows, in a few more years to come, there will be a significant reduction on the amount of waste reduced from to-go cups.

 The students will launch this system on April 22nd. That night they’ll have a party before they start pitching this system to other cafes. Claire Pires, Columbia Radio News.

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