2 SIDES: Did the mug / water bottle sales improve sustainability?


Flannery Enneking-Norton

USC’s initiative to remove disposable cups and host a reusable mug sale came with pros and cons.

USC sale nets a win for school spirit and hurricane relief

Students flock to the coffee and tea station in the cafeteria every morning, during X-period, over lunch, and at tutorial, trying to stave off the inevitable slump of the school day with a shot of caffeine. Small, brown paper cups are commonplace inside the dining hall and out. More concerning than the appearance of these uncovered cups outside of the cafeteria— which school policy prohibits— is their overwhelming presence in compost bins, recycling bins and trash bins alike. The amount of paper waste produced by these disposable cups contributes significantly to the community’s carbon footprint. Even when they are properly disposed of into the compost or recycling bin, which theoretically minimizes their environmental harm by avoiding landfills, energy is still required to process and recycle the cups, while carbon dioxide is released from their decomposition. Upper School Council’s first major initiative appropriately addressed this paper waste by eliminating all disposable cups from campus, indicating a positive movement toward a greener school.

The paper cups that remain are the last in stock but after they run out, there will be no more disposable cups available in the cafeteria, according to USC co-President Emilia Topp-Johnson.

The announcement of the mugs sale was met with more resistance than the actual removal of the cups, primarily on the basis of the mug’s the price tag: at $7 each, some students said the cost wasn’t worth it.

The USC initiative [to remove the cups] is an undeniable triple whammy of benefits.

— Flannery Enneking-Norton

While that may be, purchasing the mugs was not mandatory. USC was simply offering a convenient way for students to overcome whatever inconvenience the removal of paper cups may have posed. Opponents to the mug sale asserted that it is unfair for the school to remove the cups that so many students relied on, especially for those students who would not otherwise purchase a reusable mug or water bottle and feel slighted by the need to buy one. But the elimination of disposable cups is a push in the right direction; the initial cost of a mug is really an investment into future savings–both financially and environmentally.

Aside from complaints about the mug sale itself, there are few arguments against the actual removal of paper waste from the cafeteria. The USC initiative is an undeniable triple whammy of benefits. The immediate environmental impacts are apparent: reducing paper waste helps the earth. As an immediate and tangible bonus for the school community, USC is also pushing to supplement the snack budget with the money saved on disposable cups. Broadening the scope of the benefits of its initiative, USC also donated all profits from the mug sale to Operation USA’s Hurricane Irma Relief Fund and Program.

“This money will help get children and families back on their feet in wake of this terrible disaster,” Liepins said.

Although the mug sale only lasted two days, raising awareness for hurricane relief efforts hopefully has a lasting impact so students will continue to donate or volunteer in the future as well.

No matter which way it is sliced, USC’s decision to get rid of paper cups from the cafeteria is beneficial and a positive investment in the future, from an environmental, humanitarian and community perspective.

USC sale shows good intention, but the math doesn’t add up

Upper School Council sold reusable water bottles and mugs Sept. 18-19 in an attempt to curtail the use of disposable cups in the lunch room and support environmental sustainability on the SPA campus. The water bottles and mugs went for $7 each, and all profits were donated to relief efforts for hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

While at first glance the campaign would appear to be a net positive for environmentalism, and it was created with completely good intentions, the results of USC’s efforts are, at best, a net neutral.

According to the Tufts study, it takes 39 uses of a reusable mug to reach the “break-even” point at which the energy per use of a reusable cup becomes less than the energy per use of a paper cup. Will these mugs be used 39 times before they’re lost or forgotten?

— Lucy Sandeen

The disposable cups provided in the cafeteria require little energy to create, they’re lightweight, and they’re compostable—in all, many more compostable cups could be shipped and used using fewer resources per cup than the reusable canteens, according to a study published by Tufts University. And while the mugs and water bottles, branded with an SPA logo and the widely recognized symbol for sustainability, will undeniably get more than one use, does the math work out?

Many of the people who bought the canteens already owned at least one reusable water bottle or mug that would have sufficed for the same purpose. Purchasing a new container, in their case, was unnecessary and only caused more energy and fuel to be consumed—factors that contribute to climate change and tragedies such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma. And let’s face it: we’ve all lost countless water bottles in our lifetime. The many identical SPA beverage containers now circulating the school will only get confused, lost, thrown away, and/or left at home.

After lost water bottles have been left in the security office for long enough, they’re simply thrown away. According to the Tufts study, it takes 39 uses of a reusable mug to reach the “break-even” point at which the energy per use of a reusable cup becomes less than the energy per use of a paper cup. Will these mugs be used 39 times before they’re lost or forgotten?

While I applaud USC for their sustainability efforts and I believe that environmentalism is an important issue to address on the SPA campus, their initiative is undeniably ironic. In the future, clubs should be sure to research their projects to ensure that their efforts aren’t for naught.