Green has become the new black at Swarthmore as grass-colored coffee mugs have suddenly become an ubiquitous accessory. If you’re a student, you either have one of these cups or have seen other Swatties with them. The free mugs were given by the Green Advisers as an incentive for students to stop using disposable cups at the coffee bars, Sharples and Essie Mae’s.
The coffee bars moved towards becoming “greener” this year through the introduction of “ecocontainer” cups. The cups claim to be compostable, although very few are composted, according to Lauren Richie ’09. Richie is head coordinator of the Green Adviser Program, a program to promote environmental consciousness in the dorms. Since most cups are thrown away, they end up in landfills or incinerated in Chester. As a result, the Green advisers wanted to offer an alternative that was more environmentally friendly. “It was just a good way to reduce waste and remind people to think about other ways they could reduce waste,” said Richie.
The GA adviser requested money from the general-purpose SBC Fun Fund to buy 600 mugs from Discountmugs.com. Although the company itself is not particularly environmentally friendly, the mugs were both cheap and lined with stainless steel. Many similar mugs are lined with plastic that can release toxins if it comes into contact with hot liquids, especially plastic containers marked with recycling sign #7. Nalgene bottles are one popular but similarly dangerous container, according to Hannah Epstein ’10, the other head coordinator of the GA program and the initiator of the giveaway.
If the free mug is not enough of an incentive, discounts are available at Starbucks and Caribou Coffee. The mug incentive has made a significant impact in itself, according to Cherie, who works night shifts at Kohlberg. “The volume of cups has definitely reduced,” she said. If the trend continues, fewer cups will need to be ordered at the coffee bars.
Since half the school carries green mugs, it has created pressure on other students to follow the trend. “It makes me feel left out because everyone else has one,” said senior Elena Chopyak, who wasn’t able to pick up a mug. “I would also like to use the mugs instead of paper cups. In life [after Swarthmore] I’ll have one,” she said.
GA coordinators hope the trend will extend beyond coffee to other drinks, even alcohol at parties. “I always see people using Tarble cups for shots at parties…they can use their mugs,” said Richie. Mugs can also replace plastic bowls for cereal, said Epstein. She encouraged students to similarly use the mugs creatively to minimize usage of disposable cups.
Despite the immediate success of the enterprise, the advisers consider it as a small step forward. “Getting cups in coffee bar are only 10% of what to be done,” said Epstein. As the green mugs were distributed, GAs asked students to sign a petition to replace broken washers and dryers with energy-efficient machines. The purchase of the machines is contracted through a private company, so the petition will be directed towards Swarthmore and the company. Epstein also encouraged students to become even more “green,” by not using driers at all. “Every green adviser has a drying rack or have placed one in their dorm. There is also a small but growing supply for green laundry detergent,” she said.
The Green Advisor’s next event will be held during Earthweek in April.