During March Recyclemania, customers would pay a flat rate of 99 cents to have their reusable cup filled with coffee if they visited the cafés inside Linderman and Fairchild-Martindale libraries. Lucy's Cafe is located in the basement level of Linderman Library. (Shana Lichaw/B&W Staff)

Reusable coffee mugs help to boost sustainability around campus


Lehigh was ranked as the most caffeinated university in the country according to a Time article four years ago. While this may be good for studying, it isn’t always the best for the environment. Multiple initiatives have been started to reduce waste around campus, with varying degrees of success.

Customers at the bookstore cafe are encouraged to bring reusable mugs for their coffee, but the results have been mixed.

“A few people do come and bring the same cup that they were using before in for refills,” said Molly Benning, ‘21, an employee at the cafe. “It’s a reduced price for refills and also we don’t have to use another cup. A few students bring their own travel mugs or reusable cups; a large majority don’t though.”

Benning said when she works a seven-hour shift on Saturdays, the bookstore cafe gives out somewhere between 20-50 coffee cups, but there is little participation in the reusable cup initiative.

For many people, coffee is an integral part of the college experience, so the bookstore is finding ways to promote sustainable coffee consumption.

“We started selling reusable cups maybe a month ago, and we’ve been selling reusable straws for a few months now, so we’ve been making more of an effort this year,” Benning said.

The reusable straws were inspired by previous efforts to reduce plastic straw use on campus.

“Being one of the most caffeinated campuses probably means that we’re producing more waste when it comes to coffee consumption in terms of the cups and lids,” said Natalie Rosato, ‘20, who is an Eco-Rep.

Part of March’s Recyclemania campaign was a deal offered at on-campus cafés such as those in Linderman and Fairchild-Martindale libraries, where customers can bring any size container and have it filled with coffee for a flat rate of 99 cents.

The program aims to reduce the usage of plastic beverage cups. However, Rosato said she could also see an opportunity to push for recyclable or biodegradable coffee cups on campus in the future.

Some students are not convinced that these types of programs are helpful in protecting the environment.

“Something like recycling cups of coffee is a small difference compared to your water consumption,” said Dean Astarita, ’21. “Throughout the day, people don’t use plastic straws or turn the water off when they’re brushing their teeth, but these are very little things. The huge things are that you should be vegan, not that I am, but those are the things I should be doing rather than just recycling coffee cups.”

Astarita said he had an “acute addiction” to coffee last year, as he would have seven or eight cups per day at Rathbone because he had the full meal plan. He now limits himself to two cups per day.

Sustainability may also be a deeper issue, said John Ott, ‘19.

“I was out in California for a year and there everything is biodegradable, so it’s kind of weird coming back here and seeing so much plastic stuff, and so much waste,” Ott said. “I think it’s mostly a structural issue. Pennsylvania’s just not pushing for this kind of thing.”

Astarita said it makes sense to him that Lehigh is such a caffeinated campus.

“Coffee is an addictive substance, and it tastes good,” Astarita said. “Especially because it’s so free, it’s just easy to go overboard.”

As someone who drinks around four cups of coffee per day, Ott said he doesn’t find the dining hall coffee appealing.

This sentiment seems to be echoed by many other students who choose to make their own coffee, often in Keurig coffee makers, or who buy it at different locations around campus.

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