A Lot of Environmental Thoughtlessness Can Happen over Coffee

Cafe Coffee Day - environmental thoughtlessness

One of our guilty pleasures in India is the delicious vegan shake made by Café Coffee Day – even when we are not traveling with John, who eats based on principles of compassion which rule out dairy products. Iced espresso mixed with sweetened soy cream yields an irresistibly thick, frosty, dessert-drink.

Most Café Coffee Day franchises are inconsistent in the way they serve their vegan shakes: sometimes it comes in a glass, sometimes in a plastic cup, complete with plastic lid and plastic straw. There have been times when our group has ordered a number of vegan shakes in a single order, only to have some of the drinks arrive in glasses and some in plastic cups.

This matters to me.

Single-use plastics are an unnecessary environmental travesty in the best of circumstances; when glassware is readily available it is all-the-more unconscionable. So I was frustrated with myself today when I failed to specify that I wanted my vegan shake in a glass. Had I done so, I would have discovered that this particular Café Coffee Day served only in “disposable” cups, and I would have passed on the drink. But having drained one plastic-wrapped vegan shake, I was ready for another.

“I would like another vegan shake,” I said to the guy at the counter, “but only under one condition: if you use my old cup.” “But sir,” came the puzzled reply, “we will give you a new cup.” I explained that every plastic cup represents use of oil and energy to create, more energy to recycle (if this particular plastic is fortunate enough to have a second life), and ultimately non-biodegradable trash. He, and his three attentively eavesdropping coworkers, agreed that having a second drink in the original cup was a good idea, which doubled the usefulness of the resources that went into the making of the cup, if not exactly in those words.

So what happened next? The barista took my old cup but, before beginning to mix my drink, peeled a brand new plastic cup from the top of a stack and threw it into the nearby trash can.

What the hell!

“Sir, they count the number of cups that we use. So we can use your old cup to help the environment, but we still need to throw away another cup.”

With this kind of thinking – and corporate policy – it is possible the Indian economic miracle is much farther off than is commonly believed.

Cafe Coffee Day - environmental thoughtlessness


3 Responses to “A Lot of Environmental Thoughtlessness Can Happen over Coffee”

  1. 1 amurphyone 2 December 2007 at 3:01 pm

    In addition to being a complete luxury, gourmet coffee in to-go cups is a massive waste of natural resources. I like to think of coffee purchasing as an opportunity to become more “green”. Once someone agree that bringing their own cup to Cafe Coffee Day or Starbucks is better for the planet, it may inspire all sorts of other eco-friendly behaviour. These stores should educate their customers to the impact of disposables. They stand to still make money by offering customers logo branded re-usable cups. It ultimately comes down to us, the consumer, to demand that the companies we love make better use of the limited resources we have. Kudos to you for standing up for the planet and your children’s future by educating people about the impact of their behaviour, even if it’s just serving coffee.


  2. 2 mbjesq 2 December 2007 at 9:32 pm


    You have hit the very heart of the matter — whether we are talking about “greenness”, kindness, or any of the other morally challenging attitudes with which we struggle each day. Awareness is the biggest factor in the course our behavior will take; appreciation of small, non-grandiose steps is the second.

    In the grand scheme of things, it is all-too-easy (and, in a limited sense, all-too-accurate) to dismiss your gesture of bringing your own cup to fetch coffee as insignificant on the totality of the garbage problem. But it is immeasurably important.

    First, it serves as a conscious reminder to ourselves that we are part of a larger community and a larger world, and that our every action has consequences for others. Second, it is a reminder to others buying coffee that morning that they do not have to be sheepishly complicit in systems and patterns of behavior which give priority to commercial concerns over communitarian values.

    The lovely part of this latter aspect is that our small acts invariably have ripples far beyond our ability to observe them, know of them, or even comprehend them. Who can say how our actions will inspire or influence the actions of others and what great and beautiful things may come from that? Doing small, but morally significant things displays an abiding faith in the interconnectedness of our lives. This is a self-reflexive and ultimately self-fulfilling postulate.

    There is no substitute for “being the change we wish to see in the world.”



  3. 3 smita 27 January 2008 at 7:18 am

    So silly! What they should have done is given you your second coffee free, then they wouldn’t have had to account for that extra glass!

    But this is one thing you can’t blame on the Indian mindset. The concept of disposable=clean/sanitary/hygienic is a purely western import. The Indian way would have been to rinse all the dirty cups in a bucket of murky water and reuse them (saving even on soap and clean water).

    It is in America where, when you go to a grocery store and intercept the bagger as he is about to put your single purchase into a plastic sack and say you don’t need a bag, you will see him crumple up the brand new, totally unused, uncreased plastic and throw it in the trash.

    For better or worse, it is visitors from abroad (including NRIs) and the newly affluent Indians inspired by the West who demand and drive the culture of disposability.

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