Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Raining Coffee Cups: Time for a Refill


I gave a talk about my artwork over the weekend. After seeing a photograph of my drawings on cups, a man said to me, "Does this project have an environmental message? I hope not."
I was surprised, given that he is a science teacher.
"Only in the nicest possible way," I replied.

 Cup of the Day #78
Umbrella cup by Gwyneth Leech
India ink an Bic pen on upcyled paper coffee cup
Drawn in the window, March 21, 2011

Umbrella set by Gwyneth
India ink an Bic pen on upcyled paper coffee cups
Drawn in the window, March 21, 2011 

It is hard not to think about issues of over-consumption and consumer waste when surrounded by the results of my own small, daily act of buying hot drinks to go for over a year. Nearly 400 single use paper coffee cups is a lot to look at. I am now hyper-aware of the coffee cups I see everywhere in the city and know they aren't heading to recyling, but to landfills where they don't decompose because of their pesky polyethelene lining, the lining which allows them to hold hot drinks.

View from the Hypergraphia window
March 21, 2011

Yet I have grown fond of the sturdy paper cup. It has a history. Someone invented it in 1907, in my home state of Pennsylvania no less. And it even intersects with my family story, having first been used commercially on the Lackawanna and Western Railway. My great grandfather Alfred Fowler McCollum worked for Lackawanna at that very time, and since he was an inventor, I can imagine him being instrumental in the switch from communal water dippers to the newfangled but hygienic paper cup.

 View from the Hypergraphia window
March 21, 2011 

I decide that the least I can do is reuse some of my unadorned empties. One cup should last a few dozen times (not a patch on the travel mug which can be reused thousands of times, but I am not tempted to draw on those, yet). On the first attempt, at the deli, they take my proffered paper cup, throw it away and fill a new one. The second time, at Empire Coffee and Tea Company on 9th Avenue I specify reuse. They fill without comment, but give me a new plastic lid and coffee sleeve. All I need is another plastic lid! The third time I am at Guy and Gaillard on 38th. I ask for a cup of tea and hold out my empty paper cup. The man reaches under the counter and pulls out a new one.
"Please reuse my empty one," I say, still holding out my cup.
"Oh no," he says, "That's a cheap cup. No good. We have better cups, expensive - good plastic lining!"
He fills it and hands it over.
What can I do? I take yet another cup, pay and head out the door.

   View from the Hypergraphia window
March 19, 2011 

10 comments:

  1. Sometimes after many re-usings they develop a leak, also same thing sometimes after microwaving them. Though, I still think it's better to try to reuse them rather than not.

    Lately I have been re-using plastic food containers at the local restaurants I get take-out from during my lunch-breaks, instead of letting the food be put in styrofoam containers. At first the server is a little confused but later they come to appreciate it.

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  2. Well, I persisted with reusing one cup. After the third time it was a soggy, saggy mess - not even fit to draw on. Into the trash it went.
    Don't think you should put it in the microwave - bet the plastic lining gets into your drink that way. Those newfangled microwave thingies just make me nervous.

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  3. Sad post. (Great drawing, though.)

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  4. Then today, everywhere I went, I saw people with travel mugs. Suggestions welcome, if you have one you like - they always bump my nose when I drink.
    Better yet, lets go back to sitting in caf├ęs and drinking from china cups!

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  5. I'm quite surprised by the science teacher's question. Has he been living under a rock? How can anyone not be aware of our "throw away consumerism?

    I'm absolutely aghast by the amount of trash my husband and I generate in one week! I wish we could develop the "recycle everything" attitude that exists in Germany. Each household is allowed one bag a week! They have no place for massive amounts of trash, landfill is at a premium. If you go over the one bag limit you're fined heavily.

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  6. I've been on a Gwyneth binge, reading all the window posts and drinking in the photos. My cup runneth over.

    I too am a paper cup - and sometimes styrafoam cup - recycler. I keep a cup going as long as it stays firm, using them for my home brew.

    Your writing is as good as your painting, and after reading your stuff I feel like I have been passing your window daily and giving a thumbs up - even though I live 150 miles away.

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  7. Gwyneth--I've just discovered your Hypographia project on Joanne Matter's blog and am delighted. Pondering the cup drawings you've included here has given me much food for thought. I've often thought of the myriad of paper cups all marching one after another into the land fill-thank you for bring such graceful awareness to this issue of waste!

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  8. A little known secret of patrons of the Wendy's fast food chain is that they will refill your drink cup as many times as you ask (eat in patrons only). In years back one only had to thrust your used cup out and tell them what beverage you preferred. Now they take that cup and give you a new one. It has been explained to me that this is due to new health laws.

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  9. Agree with you about the trash volume Joan, especially the plastics.
    Here are a couple of websites for ideas:
    Plastic Pollution coalition

    Zero Waste Home

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  10. Rebecca, Ironic story about Wendy's!

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