Trying not to be part of the problem.

Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, so am I, and so is everything else in world

A night shift became available suddenly last night, so on the way in I decided to treat myself to a coffee, even though I said I should probably stop doing that. Anyway, it caught my attention in doing so how Costa have adopted a policy of offering 25p off the price of your takeaway coffee if you bring your own reusable cup. This is surely a good thing, if it encourages people not to use disposable coffee cups, and might even signify the first inklings of high street giants of the potential profits to be made from the zero waste demographic. Naturally, however, I have a number questions.



First question: am I turning into my dad? Much to the amusement of my mother, particularly now that money is not the worry for them it once was, my dad has always an insatiable appetite for not spending money on things if he can avoid it. My mother calls it his "east Midlands streak" - the two of them originating from Derby, you see. I've never heard anyone else refer to people from Derby as unusually frugal (I thought that was Yorkshiremen, or is is it Scots?) but my mother knows a lot of things nobody else seems to know, and I respect that. The issue I am about to comment on with a borderline autistic level of pedantry is also just the sort of thing my dad would notice, and now, for reasons not entirely mysterious I suppose, I have started noticing too.

Not the only time this cup has ever,
or will ever be used, probably.
Second question: aren't the cups that coffee comes in when you don't take it outside reusable?  They are, after all, reused.

Third question: why, then, is coffee you sit down for still more expensive than coffee you take away?  A medium "Americano" (that's black coffee, if you're old enough to remember when you could call it that) costs £2.30 "to go", and £2.50 to sit in.  Coffee to go comes in disposable cups.  So if you bring your own cup, it costs £2.05.

I look the next logical leap, which is what, I have no doubt, had my Dad been there, he would have done too, and asked the "barista" question number four: what if I bring my own reusable cup but stay inside to drink my coffee?  Would this cost £2.25?  That would be a saving of 5p to drink my coffee in my own cup indoors, compared to drinking it in a disposable cup outdoors.  Would this be acceptable?  I'm willing to pay the extra 5p to sit indoors, offset against the saving of 25p saving both you the trouble of washing one of your own cups, and the ecosystem the trouble of accommodating more plastic.  It's win-win.  Is all of this consistent with your overall business model and this quarter's profit projections?

Leave her alone Dad, she just works here.

She gave me that "oh god not another pedantic weirdo customer why do they always talk to me I just want to go home and drink wine" look that nobody ever expects, but everyone always deserves.  (Be nice to people in customer service please, they hate you; they really, really hate you, as they have every right to do).  I shut my mouth and sat down.

On the way down, I stopped off at the coffee accessories station, or whatever it's called where you get your sugar, napkins and so on - oh lord, that's probably exactly what it is called) to grab my usual handful of sugar sachets, when it hit me just in time: zero waste.  Individually packaged sugar portions aren't zero waste.  Alright, they're made of paper and so probably recyclable (or that weird plasticy paper, and so probably not) but still, they are wasteful, pointless, excessive.  Question five: would it be cheaper to offer a bowl of sugar on the table, just as cafes once did?  Six: what business advantages are there in offering individually packaged sugar portions, disposable wooden stirrers (question seven) and plastic spoons (question eight) when reusable alternatives exist, and did long before the likes of Costa ever came along?  Economists, I believe, refer to such considerations as "externalised costs" - i.e. costs not factored into overall calculations of profit for the business, since the price is paid by someone else: or in most cases, something else, i.e. the environment (i.e. everyone else).

A zero waste option for sugar users was unavailable, so I took my coffee without sugar on this occasion.  (Well how about that?  Going zero waste is good for you, too!)

21st century urban coffee management and accessorising solutions.
I'm sure that somebody, somewhere - probably a whole committee of someones - have considered all of these questions, and many others, from every possible angle, and come to their conclusions for sound and defensible business reasons.  You would expect no less, and no more, under  'endless growth' capitalism.  Which leads me to ask my only real question here: under current economic models, are such things as offering tiny incentives to customers to reuse their own cups ever going to be anything more than shallow and meaningless gestures of caring about the deep and important environmental problems of wastefulness and sustainability?  Can capitalism ever make its peace with the growing trend away from consumption and towards zero waste, minimalism and truly subversive anti-consumerism?  Or will it, as it always does, incorporate these ideas, step by tiny imperceptible step smoothing them out until they remain available only as commodified "choices", compatible now with the existing paradigm but stripped of any power they might have had to really change anything?

It remains to be seen, but here is a clue.  The barista, her only defence against my passive-aggressive onslaught of ridiculous questions about cups and pennies and sustainable business models, offered me a solution.

Costa sell their own reusable cups for you to take away and bring with you next time.

95p each.

Made entirely of plastic.

******
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