Storm in a cup

Last Updated 21 January 2018, 17:48 IST

There are few things that signal 'urban elite' as strongly as a take-away beverage cup. From the busy young professional  to the affluent youngster, not many people think twice before  grabbing a cup of overpriced coffee or cold drink in a disposable container.  

While this may seem like a convenient option for those on the go, the associated costs are huge  - and we are not just talking about the moolah that you shell out. Thousands of disposable cups make their way to Bengaluru's already overflowing landfills on a daily basis and are an added burden to a city grappling with a gargantuan garbage problem.  

The case is the same around the globe. Lawmakers in the United Kingdom are now debating a new tax, termed 'latte levy', on disposable cups in an effort to cut down on waste. Is it time  that a similar concept was implemented here too?

Says Ashwini Devadiga, a professional, "What is first needed is a change in the mindset of the consumers. People need to recognise that even though their cups may look recyclable  because of the paper exteriors, there is a water-proof plastic lining inside and this prevents it from decomposing. Maybe food outlets can look at giving discounts to people who bring their own cups while the government can pass a bill that disincentivises the use of use-and-throw containers."

She adds, "I initially started  carrying my own mug when malls and other outlets stopped providing lids  for such cups but over time it has become a habit for me."

The need for a change in thinking is imperative. As research scholar Meera Kamal points out, "A small tax will hardly be a deterrent for people who are willing to pay Rs 150 for a cup of coffee which they can get for Rs 30 somewhere else. For them, it is about the psychological satisfaction that the brand gives."  

Old habits die hard unless there is sufficient motivation to turn to a new practice. Price signals are not all that consumers pay attention to; when people see others around them adopting to a new lifestyle, the main thing at work is the 'herd mentality'. When the use of plastic bags was discouraged, the awareness-campaigns were helped in part by the actual sight of many people carrying jute or tote bags and that led to a rise in popularity of the notion.  

With the country fast running out of landfills and with a scarcity of  non-conventional recycling plants, the onus is equally on the big coffee and fast food chains and the government to ensure that a sustainable solution is presented. A small portion of their significantly huge budgets can be spent on research and development  to design eco-friendly alternatives that are both cost-effective as well as aesthetically pleasing.  

One can also return to the roots and go for traditional choices. While Ashwini says that bamboo cups are a good option, Meera thinks that anything from mud or steel cups to ceramic pots can be promoted.  

They say if coffee can't fix it, then it is a serious problem. Let us ensure that our coffee itself doesn't turn into one.

(Published 21 January 2018, 11:00 IST)

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