COF­FEE CUL­TURE

We get through 2.5 bil­lion plas­tic-lined cups ev­ery year thanks to our take­away habit. Do your bit and switch back to ce­ramic

BBC Good Food - - Contents - Joanna Blythman @joannablyth­man

Joanna Blythman on take­away cups and plas­tic waste

It was back in the ’90s when the fash­ion for take­away cof­fee – hot, frothy and fresh from Man­hat­tan – re­ally took off in Bri­tain. We’d had cof­fee for cen­turies be­fore this, of course: Eng­land’s first cof­fee­house opened in the 17th cen­tury; the cel­e­brated Al­ge­rian Cof­fee Stores in Lon­don’s Soho was es­tab­lished in 1887; and from the turn of the 20th cen­tury, cityscapes were bright­ened by Ital­ian espresso bars.

For me, cof­fee cul­ture went wrong when we started down the US path. It be­came cool to be seen out and about with a take­away cof­fee in a plas­tic cup – not a re­strained Euro­pean cof­fee but a su­per­sized Amer­i­can ver­sion with a buck­et­load of milk.

We were conned into think­ing that we didn’t have time to make good cof­fee at home or in the of­fice, or to en­joy it sit­ting down in a café. Take­aways, we were led to be­lieve, were where it was at. I was once in­vited into the home of a celebrity who had a state-of-the-art kitchen. To my amaze­ment, she walked in with a plas­tic cup of cof­fee that she’d bought from a thor­oughly un­ex­cep­tional lo­cal café. Just look at the legacy of this Amer­i­can­i­sa­tion of our cof­fee con­sump­tion: moun­tains of al­legedly ‘dis­pos­able’ cups that we can’t ac­tu­ally dis­pose of. We now get through 2.5 bil­lion such cups (and ac­com­pa­ny­ing plas­tic lids) each year in the UK. While the pa­per in them is tech­ni­cally re­cy­clable, it’s bonded to a poly­eth­yl­ene plas­tic layer to make the cups wa­ter­proof – and there are only three cen­tres in the UK that can re­cy­cle them. If you rou­tinely buy take­away cof­fee (or tea, for that mat­ter), please face the un­palat­able fact: your cup is al­most cer­tainly con­tribut­ing to the planet’s in­creas­ingly acute ex­cess plas­tic prob­lem, which be­gins with choked fish in plas­tic-rid­den seas and ends up with mi­croplas­tics in the very cells of the food on our plates. The short-term so­lu­tion pro­posed by the House of Com­mons’ En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Com­mit­tee is a 25p charge on dis­pos­able cups, dubbed the ‘latte levy’. It wants all cof­fee cups to be fully re­cy­clable by 2023. Star­bucks now charges 5p for sin­gle-use cups, al­though it’s We were conned into think­ing that we didn’t have time to make good cof­fee at home or in the of­fice de­bat­able whether a few pence on an al­ready pricey bev­er­age will make a dent in the cat­a­stroph­i­cally un­sus­tain­able cof­fee-on-the-hoof cul­ture that brands such as this have so prof­itably gen­er­ated. So savour a stiff, sober­ing espresso and grasp a new re­al­ity. Let’s reac­quaint our­selves with the plea­sure of cof­fee served in a ce­ramic cup. The world’s grotesque plas­tic prob­lem won’t be solved with naive ideas of re­cy­cling that are as wishy-washy as a wa­tery Amer­i­cano. We must sim­ply wean our­selves off plas­tic in all its forms.

Good Food con­tribut­ing edi­tor Joanna is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten about food for 25 years. She is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to BBC Ra­dio 4.

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