Bring Your Own Mug (BYOM)

Author: Cheyenne Pittman

     Every coffee cashier that cares about the environment has heard the different reasons for why someone does not want their coffee in a mug: “It gets cold in a mug,” “I might take it to go,” “I might spill it,” “I can’t be trusted with glass,” “the paper cups are just easier to hold.” All of these responses can spark a fire behind the eyes of an environmental enthusiast at the register. Some of these can be valid reasons for not getting your drink in a mug, but we want to educate our consumers on why going reusable is vital for our ecosystem. 

The Situation

To start, we recognize that most coffee shops have converted to paper cups instead of the styrofoam that dominated the industry 30 years ago. This in itself is a win but, it's not enough. Most people believe that just because they are using a paper cup, it can be recycled. Unfortunately this is a myth. According to Waste Advantage Magazine, only about 1 in 400 paper cups can actually be recycled. This is because the paper used is mixed with a polyethylene in order to handle the heat and moisture that these cups hold. The lids are also not accepted in most plastic recycling bings. The Waste Mountain of Coffee Cups - Eco2 Greetings, has created an infographic to show the amount of waste in paper cups alone compared to the Seattle Space Needle. Starbucks has been offering incentives for reusable cups since 1998 (10 cents off), however they claim that only about 1.8% of drinks they make are actually put into these cups. In 2011, 2.5 billion paper coffee cups were thrown away, which inevitably means that we have increased that number since then. 

People generally know their role in taking care of the environment, we know that we should use less waste, recycle, and avoid plastic; but what is stopping people from actually being able to make that change? The coffee industry is fast-paced and always moving. Most people are grabbing their coffees on their way to work or in between meetings, the cup they drink it in is of less significance than what is actually inside of it. The mentality of “It’s only one cup,” has reigned dominant in millions of people’s minds. Convenience is of the utmost importance to most coffee consumers. The 21th century has brought efficiency and speed to an entirely new level which is in part why waste has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. Less people are taking the time to sit in a coffee shop so more cups are getting used. We like things to be fast and simple. A paper or plastic cup is much more convenient than having to remember to bring a reusable mug and then wash it out after. It's understandable, which is why some coffee shops offer financial or points incentives for the inconvenience. Incentives like this are so encouraging for people that do bring their own cup. Most people have complained about their coffee getting cold in both paper cups and mugs which is just another reason to switch over to their own to go mugs. The technology these days has created cups that can hold their temperature for over 24 hours and almost all coffee shops can make any drink in them which is also unknown. Yes, a latte or frappuccino can go into your cup. I have even found that when I bring my own cup, it gets filled all the way up no matter what size I paid for because of the mutual appreciation. 

Our Response

There is no one-step solution to saving the environment. There are always changes to be made, but getting your coffee in a reusable mug can make all the difference. At The North Central Coffee Lab we noticed that we were contributing to this waste when we would serve coffee for events at the Lab or on campus. We were using compostable cups, which is better than paper or plastic, but we knew it wasn’t enough. Sustainability is always at the core of our decision making process, so we decided to start taking in mug donations in the fall of 2019 and kept track of how many cups were saved from a landfill. Professors, students, family members, and Coffee Lab team members donated over 100 mugs. Since swapping out those mugs for our compostable cups, we have saved over 3,500 cups from sitting in the landfill. Sure, it may have created a tiny bit of extra work for us to collect and wash the mugs, but the environmental benefit from that is worth it. Not only has our sustainability increased, but the variety of fun mugs also was a great community builder. Bringing your own mug may not always be the easiest choice, but I promise you that it can be a fun one! Below are some pictures of our favorite mugs!


 Photo Credit: Shrina Patel




“New Infographic Reveals the Waste Mountain of Coffee Cups We Produce Per Year.” Waste Advantage Magazine, 9 Nov. 2016,

“Single Use Coffee Cup Reduction.” Oregon's Oldest Grassroots Nonprofit Organization Dedicated to Creating a Sustainable Future through Local Efforts to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.,

team, Reality Check. “Plastic Recycling: Why Are 99.75% of Coffee Cups Not Recycled?” BBC News, BBC, 17 Apr. 2018,


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