How to Ditch Coffee Cups

For many of us, a daily caffeine jolt is non-negotiable. Paper coffee cups aren’t recyclable in Chicago, though: they’re lined with plastic to make them waterproof, and since the recycling machines can’t tease apart the thin layers of paper and plastic, into the trash those cups go. 

However: for those coffee and tea lovers looking to reduce your impact, there are many ways to avoid using those paper coffee cups in the first place (no avoiding your favorite coffee shop needed!). 

Here are a few ways to make sure you don’t get any of those paper cups to throw in the trash:

Grab a reusable thermos. 

Almost every coffee shop will gladly fill a reusable insulated coffee mug or thermos brought from home. Simply hand it over to the barista with a smile and a “Can I get my coffee in this, please?” You’ll also want to make sure you know the size of your thermos – 12, 16, and 24 ounces are the most common – so the barista can charge you accordingly. 

There are many brands that make reusable travel cups, so choose the one you like best – just make sure it’s insulated so that it won’t burn your hands once it’s full of hot liquid. We also like to choose thermoses with a minimum amount of plastic, since plastic will retain the coffee scent over time. Stainless steel and glass are better bets since they’re easier to clean.

You can find these for sale anywhere from big-box stores like Target to most coffee shops. You can even pick one up at a secondhand store, which is an affordable option. Bonus: many coffee shops, including Starbucks, offer a discount when you use a reusable travel mug instead of a paper cup. Over time, the cup can pay for itself!

Ask for your drink “for here.” 

Forgot your reusable coffee cup, or simply haven’t had a chance to pick one up yet? Not a problem: many coffee shops still stock ceramic mugs on hand and will gladly serve your drink in them instead of the paper variety.

It may not be the barista’s first instinct to serve your drink in a reusable cup rather than a paper one, so simply ask at the register if you can get your drink “for here.” (Then, if possible, keep an eye on them when they’re brewing your coffee or tea to make sure they don’t forget and accidentally reach for a paper cup). 

Since this option means you’ll have to stay at the shop until you finish your drink, enjoy taking a few extra minutes to linger over your coffee rather than rocketing out the door to start your day.

Brew coffee or tea at home.

Of course, another way to avoid getting a paper coffee cup is by brewing your coffee or tea at home, instead. You can pop it into a travel mug to take it with you, or just enjoy your cup at home instead. We recognize that there are times that only your beloved coffee shop brew will do, but in the interest of sharing all of the options: this one certainly does the trick!

When all else fails…

Even if the paper coffee cup itself isn’t recyclable, the paper sleeve meant to protect your hands from the heat is. If you find yourself with coffee in a paper coffee cup, whether by accident or just because you really needed it that day, deconstruct your cup when you’re finished drinking: recycle the cardboard sleeve then pop that coffee cup and lid in the trash and resolve to do it differently next time.

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