Single-use containers are wasteful and don’t actually protect you from COVID-19
Let’s set the scene: it’s a warm, rainy autumn afternoon, and I am running errands — looking for linen pillowcases in the Plateau, to be exact. I found them; gorgeous, bright yellow ones. I had to look for them because I had ordered some online and they were “returned to sender.” Long story short, I asked for a reimbursement but still ended up paying for shipping, so I decided to continue my search in real life and support a local business. So, I get the yellow ones to brighten up my life, I stop to pick up some groceries (frozen tortellini), and impulsively walk into a new coffee shop on Mont-Royal Avenue.
My sisters and I had stumbled upon it a few weeks ago, when we could still sit in a café, only to find out they weren’t actually open to the public yet (their door was literally wide open at the time). So the shop is that brand new, to me anyway. We were intrigued because the new shop is called Columbus Café, and why is anything called “Columbus” anymore? It’s 2020. F*ck Columbus. I thought we were all on the same page.
Back to this warm, rainy day. I follow my query and order an elaborate coffee — the only reasoning I can come up with to justify paying for coffee when I have a perfectly good espresso machine at my apartment. The “Café Latte de l’Ours” is Columbus Café’s signature drink, with crushed speculoos (a type of cookie) and honey. I order it with oat milk and whipped cream.
The entire time I drink it, I’m honestly hating myself, thinking: “Why did I just do that? Why did I buy a cup of coffee just to see… see what? I’m only adding to the waste cycle — no matter what this cup says, it can’t be recycled or composted in Montreal.” I finish my cup and ceremoniously throw it in a garbage bin at a nearby park. Was it worth it?
I’m a big fan of treating yourself to a fancy coffee every once in a while — with a reusable cup. I miss my reusable cup, something that has stayed deep in my kitchen drawer over the course of the pandemic, safe for a few camping trips. I’m so angry, fueled by an article I read about how the recycling industry is a lie, another that reveals the truth behind “biodegradable” labels, and a third that announces Tim Horton’s “miraculous” new reusable takeaway container program.
Why can’t they just let us use what we already have?
Not that I would ever go to Tim Horton’s anyway — I’m of the opinion that the Canadian company’s splendour took a major downfall when Burger King bought them in 2014. But waste production levels have surged over the past six months, and it’s time we bring the reusable coffee cup back into the picture. Providing plastic take-away containers for a small fee, made from recycled plastic or not, is only creating more waste in the long run.
So, as it turns out, Columbus Café was the very first coffee shop chain to be established in France, first opening in 1994. The chain has about 200 shops in a number of countries and also specialises in muffins. In sum, while the name might be questionable, Columbus is definitely better than Starbucks or Tim Hortons. The company is committed to serving fairtrade and eco-certified coffee, “using only eggs from alternative farms to cages, by 2020 at the latest” (whatever that means) and free-range poultry.
Their website also outlines their source of paper packaging and compostable straws, as well as identifying an interest in opting for wooden cutlery. While their transparent cups (cold beverages only) are made of PLA, a fully “biodegradable” polymer, they say nothing of their hot-beverage cups, and under the current circumstances, we can assume reusable cups are out of the question.
Pretty please, let us use reusable coffee cups again. I am begging you.
Even science “supports the end to the reusable coffee cup ban,” according to this article by Jodi Helmer for FoodPrint. “Banning reusables failed to account for possible contamination of single-use plastic cups … latest research shows that the virus lives longer on plastics than other surfaces, increasing the risk from single-use plastics.” Even though potentially contaminated single-use cups will be immediately disposed of after their use, it doesn’t stop opportunities for cross-contamination, even before the coffee is served by a barista and their (hopefully) disinfected —or better yet, gloved — hands.
Furthermore, what’s the difference between the virus staying on single-use coffee cups and say, something like door handles or public benches? Long story short, using reusable cups is no safer than single-use cups.
If this is the case then why are we still stuck on banning reusables?
I really just want to have fancy coffees from coffee shops and walk around with them. In my own mug. I need a reason to leave my apartment, especially now that our lockdown has been extended once again. I also really want to support local businesses. Sure I can buy coffee grounds from them to bring back home, but it’s just not the same.
I would also love to know the story behind Columbus Café’s name and bear logo, because right now, that’s oh so very *French* of them. And by *French* I mean nationalist, bourgeois and colonial AF.
Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab