Many coffee chains in the UK and US are now offering price breaks if customers bring ceramic coffee tumblers instead of using the stores own paper coffee cups.
Most are lauded for their commitment to looking after our environment but is there any proof that these changes will have the desired effect and minimise our negative effect on the planet?
Research from the early 1990s suggests that each time you clean a mug in the dishwasher, it takes about as much energy - and would probably produce as many emissions - as it takes simply to produce a new hot drink paper cup!
Advances in dishwasher efficiency since then may have changed the math a little, but if you wash your Ceramic mug after every use, you could easily be talking hundreds of cups of coffee before your mug makes more sense than a daily dose of paper. Cleaning the mug by hand may not absolve you, either - although you can help your case by using cold water and be sparse with the fairy - detergents are pretty energy-intensive to make.
The argument is worse when you compare Ceramic Mugs with Plastic Glasses
Using ceramics would be an ethical no brainer were it not for Work carried out by Dr Martin Hocking, Reusable and Disposable Cups: an Energy-Based Evaluation. He concluded you'd need to use your ceramic mug 1,006 times for it to break even (in energy terms) with its polystyrene competitor. This is largely because kilns are extraordinarily energy intensive, because using a dishwasher to wash the cup also uses energy, and because cups get broken. Plastic cups also had a reasonably good recycling infrastructure in place: the UK's Save a Cup programme saveacup.co.uk still collects millions of plastic cups from vending machines.
It seems whether an individual or massive coffee chain you cannot win sometimes, whatever we do we seem to leave rubbish, create more waste, or anger some groups with our actions. Who really considers all of the above when all you actually want is a Cafe Latte, and quick?