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Reusable vs. Disposable

15 April 2008

I was recently asked to weigh in on the reusable vs. disposable question when it comes to utensils at the office. Specifically, a Challenger was asked, “How do you know that it is more green to spend the energy and water to wash the mug, plate etc. than to just use disposables?” In other words, don’t we use more resources creating then washing a reusable mug than just using disposables, which don’t need to be washed?

The answer depends on how faithfully reusable mugs, plates, bowls and flatware are actually used. According to a life cycle analysis done by the University of Victoria in 1994, the energy required to make a reusable mug is vastly larger than that required to make a disposable cup. Also, reusable mugs use more energy in the long run because they need to be washed – so using water and energy to heat the water.

So what are the benefits of using a reusable mug, or plate or bowl or flatware? That you can use it over and over and over again. If a reusable mug (plate, etc) is used repeatedly, eventually despite the extra costs for washing, it will catch up to the energy savings of disposables. So if you actually USE that mug that you brought into work with the intention of stopping grabbing disposable cups, and you use it every day, in the long run you will save more energy and produce less waste than if you were using disposable cups.

Green Starbucks claims that if fifty customers a day in every Starbucks store brought their own mug, the resulting savings from unused disposables would be the equivalent of saving 300,000 trees from ending up in landfills every year.

So USE your reusables to make a real difference. Learn more ways to save money and energy at the Minnesota Energy Challenge.

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