Refilling your cup

Pashley Roadster

The Pashley Roadster with dual water mounts. Photo:

When I set out to write this piece I had no idea how distraught I would find myself in reaction to the research on disposable drink containers.

It’s amazing to me that in the span of less than a half century we’ve gone from almost everyone all the time using thermoses for on the go drinks to almost no one using one ever. At least here in the industrialized world.

How did we get here?

What boggles me most is what kind of mind set must necessarily be behind such personal, community, business and cultural behavior?

Our view of the material world is marked by such abundance, served by such cheap resources, that we’re willing to indulge in everything offered in disposable single-servings. We see no “preciousness” in our precious, non-renewable resources. So we’ve ripped through them almost entirely in a little over one century’s time.

That we routinely purchase 16 or 20 ounce drinks (amazingly, including bottled water) in these disposable carriers has got to be among the severest low points for us as a people. We experience no relationship to the vast majority of things we personally consume, and no relationship to what happens to the package once we’re through with it.

A sucker born every minute

But for business it’s pure genius.

Get a bunch of mindless knobs to repeatedly pony up way too much money for single servings under the guise of ease, convenience and alleged cleanliness. I say alleged since, when one drinks from a plastic bottle that may be leeching toxic cancer-causing compounds I’m hard-pressed to call that either sanitary or healthy.

Then getting us to despoil our landscape, soils, and waterways while downing and trashing another bottle and then buying again is a case of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

It’s nuts!

Numbers don’t lie

It’s nothing but buying, using, trashing, buying, using, trashing.

Here’s a disturbing statistic:

During Keep America Beautiful’s 2008 Great American Cleanup, volunteers recovered and recycled 189 million PET (plastic) bottles that littered highways, waterways and parks.

And that was just what was littered.

Last year Good magazine reported that Americans thew away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. EVERY HOUR!

That’s 60 million bottles a day. That’s 219 billion a year. Watch a video on their efforts to reduce plastic use (and share with your kids after Screen-Free Week).

I feel sick. Sad. Ashamed.

But boy have we ever been convinced by business that we can’t function without the nearest reach-in fridge at a Quickie Mart.

And heaven knows (or maybe it’s Hell) that they’ve got a lot to work with.

In this information glutted on-the-go age remembering your own car keys and sunglasses is hard enough–now you have to remember a suite of take-along refillable drink containers too? And not just for you, but for the whole brood?

But that seems to be the size of it unless we want more trash mountains as our landscapes of choice.

My cup runneth over

So fine, let’s use a resuable cup or thermos already.

Please, never ever send your kid to school again with a Capris Sun or a juice box, or a Vitamin Water or for pity’s sake a bottled water (what a sham). And never leave home w/out your thermos, resuable cup (or several) to address your various drinking needs while on the road, at sports practice and wherever else.

This is absolutely the right thing to do.

Yes, you’ll forget sometimes. I do too. But here’s a few tricks to make it easier:

  1. Get yourself a cup you love carrying. Monogrammed or Luxe or with some great design on it. One for coffee, one for water and other drinks. Then you’ll feel stylish when you’re sporting it, and that’s always fun. I love the bottles from Sigg, especially their personalized Cafe Press option, and those from Klean Kanteen.
  2. Make reusable cups your new “everyone gets one” gift—from kids birthday party gifts (they get enough toys, trust me, mom will be glad) to the secretary at work to grandma on Mother’s Day. Then it will be “mission oriented” for you and planted more deeply in your consciousness.
  3. Put a post-it or larger note by the front door (or put it on your chalk board/bulletin board) reminding you to CARRY THE CUP. Use the sign until it’s deeply in your behavioral patterns.

A change afoot

It’s easy to forget to carry your own since the “trash it” mentality is so deeply embedded in our buying and behavioral habits. Many of today were born into this paradigm and no nothing else.

Yet, with the force of will you can change your ways. Then if you forget your reusable bottle, or leave it somewhere—I once left mine at my hair cutter’s for a month—you can be forgiving of yourself since you’re really trying.

By our new behavioral choices we’ll send a message to business that the demand for disposable bottles is down. Then it wont be so cool anymore. And all without lecturing anyone.

Sure, we need disposables in emergencies. Certainly for rescue efforts. Definitely for medical incidents and at a certain level at hospitals. Obviously on hand at large events to prevent crowd crises until it becomes the cultural norm to bring your own (and when laws and regulations stop preventing us from doing so). And on rare occasions as “a treat” to make life easier for you and yours in a complex situation.

But 219 billion trashed plastic bottles each year? It’s not going to take long at that rate for our world to look like a landscape from Wall-E or the edgy satireIdiocracy.

Bring your own. It’s what the hip chicks do.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.


  1. Lisa Klein says:

    This was really a GREAT article. The more I read about our endless use of plastic trashed bottles, the more horrified I feel. This offered really good suggestions on coping with this and doing better (without hitting myself on the head with a brick!).

    Now what to do about all those things that just come wrapped in plastic!!!

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