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Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters > Pollution

22 Jul 13 16:34

Some colleagues of mine have been having a discussion about which might be the lesser of two evils.

Here at the office, we have a canteen, and at the canteen, as one might expect, we have coffee machines and a water cooler. And next to every coffee machine and water cooler, there are rows of neon green columns - each built of a large quantity of stacked paper cups.

At the last place I worked, we had also coffee machines and water coolers. But, instead of paper cups, we had glasses, ceramic mugs and glass carafes stocking our kitchenette, along with a washing machine that was filled and run once a day so that all of these beverage implements could be used again in the morning.

My instinct says that reusable - rather than disposable - is the more environmentally friendly approach, and my first week here I went out and bought a mug, glass and carafe for my desk, limiting my paper-cup usage to beverages involving milk (for better or worse, I'm not yet to the point where I'm willing to bring dish soap into the office and do daily scrubbing in the ladies' room).

After I'd already made my purchases, I stumbled upon the conversation about which approach is, indeed, more efficient.

Apparently I have very resourceful colleagues - one found this useful study that lists the number of times you would have to use a re-usable cup before the energy to create and wash it breaks even with the energy required to create a disposable cup. You can read the two-page analysis here:

but I can sum it up for you briefly:

You better use your glass or mug a LOT if you want to be environmentally friendly.

No matter what, I think the lesson is that less is always more - whether it's paper cups or glass or ceramic, the less we consume (in the goods and services, rather than food and beverage, sense of the word), the better. Sentiments echoed by a great little TED talk found by yet another resourceful colleague:

Give it a watch; you'll never dry your hands the same way again!

Joe Smith: How to use a paper towel | Video on

You use paper towels to dry your hands every day, but chances are, you're doing it wrong. In this enlightening and funny short talk, Joe Smith reveals the trick to perfect paper towel technique. ...

Category: Climate/natural disasters: Pollution, Sustainable energy

1 Comment

Howard Smith - 22 Jul 2013, 5:54 p.m.

There were two themes that I detected here (other readers may draw different conclusions):
1. Data is hard to come by -- particularly actionable data
2. Even with the data, the "user" still can make a big difference in the way they react to the information.
I suspect these themes are widely applicable.

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