Back to the classroom. One of our set texts was ‘The Conundrum’ by David Owen. The extended title was ‘how scientific innovation, increased efficiency, and good intentions can make our energy and climate problems worse’. It didn’t sound like it would be relaxing bedtime reading however I persevered.
In the introduction, Owens tells a story of arriving in Melbourne for a conference. He was telling someone in the audience about his theme for the presentation, when the guy interrupted, saying, “Just tell me what to buy!”
I know that feeling. If the lifestyle we are currently living is not sustainable, then just tell me what I need to do to reduce that old ecological footprint of mine!!
Anthony James, our lecturer, had a multiple choice ‘sustainability quiz’ that we hoped might provide us with ‘the answer’.
He set up three cups and we had to say which cup we thought was the most sustainable option. We were presented with a plastic cup, a paper cup and a china mug. I have added a fourth cup, just to make this a bit more interesting: the KeepCup.
This is an abridged version of the class discussion, which, not surprisingly, went on for a rather lengthy period.
You also won’t be surprised to discover that each option has its pros and cons.
The china cup, made in England, will last longer than the other alternatives but of course there are issues such as the need for frequent washing, transporting it from one side of the planet to the other and, besides, your favourite barista would probably not welcome you bringing your own mug from home.
Plastic, while often recyclable, uses up valuable oil and gas resources in the manufacturing process. (The original cup was a Styrofoam cup – they are so much out of favour that I couldn’t find one for the photo shoot. They have a very bad reputation!)
This paper cup is 100% compostable. (Produced locally in Melbourne by Planet Cup) This is a good option however it still means that the paper has to come from somewhere and energy will be tied up in producing them.
The KeepCup, created by Abigail Forsyth, also from Melbourne, has been so successful that it is now sold in 32 countries. Based on the idea of Forsyth’s daughter’s juice cup, it has clearly caught the imagination of millions of people around the world. And here lies the problem. We can’t stop buying them. In an article from The Age in 2013, when the company were asked to create yet another version, Forsyth responded on their blog,”we are trying to create fewer cups, not more…” In that same article we learn that “since 2009 we have bought 3.5 million cups”.
Owen asserts that ‘we’re consumers at heart’, and, in my experience, this rings true. I bought a KeepCup but I still haven’t used it – I don’t actually buy takeaway coffee very often – but I just like having one.
At the end of our session, Anthony declared that trying to work out which is the most sustainable cup is almost an unanswerable question and an analogy for sustainability overall.
He wanted us to consider these questions before our next class:
Why have we assumed that something is so necessary?
What do we actually need?
This last question is my favourite – what do we actually need.