When you order a takeaway coffee in Spain it is served in a polystyrene cup that cracks at the slightest squeeze. This typically comes with a lid you have to remove completely each time you want to take a sip (or a hole for yet another item of plastic—a straw—to fit through) before you can drink your cafe con leche.
If you ask for takeaway toast, it will come wrapped in aluminium foil. Or, if you are in a small town, in a cafe ill equipped to satisfy your desire to eat while you walk, they might serve it in a plastic tupperware.
In short: the experience is so unwieldy that the concept of “takeaway” is so uncommon that no-one asks for it except tourists. And then they complain that it is wasteful…
The irony is that European cafe culture is more environmentally friendly than Australia or America’s. People sit down to eat or drink, they leave, their tazas get washed up. Simple.
They also return to the office refreshed, having taken a much needed mental break, rather than trying to half-work half-eat at their desks, which has been shown to reduce productivity.
In Australia and America, however, much as we pride ourselves on our $40, occasionally used keep cups, bamboo straws and sustainable beard oil, we have a habit of ordering coffee in takeaway cups. Let’s be honest: it’s more convenient than a keep cup, doesn’t require cleaning, and keeps your coffee warmer for longer.
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The worst offenders? Grown men who order takeaway Piccolos (a tiny coffee, designed to be served on the counter of a cafe or bar and knocked back in a few seconds, or sipped leisurely over 5 minutes while you chat with your mates), walk down the street with it, finish it off in a few gulps, and leave it on the nearest window sill.
Not only is this slightly antithetical to our “green” values, but it is a symptom of a larger problem: our non existent cafe culture. Instead of socialising while we sip our daily dose of black (or brown) gold, we stress down the street with it, or sup it mindlessly at our desks.
And on the odd occasion we brave the “have here” option, unless it’s a weekend, it’s often a regrettable choice—as you have to fight for elbow room between “entrepreneurs” pretending to look busy on their laptops (whilst browsing Facebook) and hipsters drinking their third pumpkin spice latte of the day.
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While you may argue this is a frothy stereotype—much like a burnt Cappuccino—you can’t deny the bitter truth underneath. So maybe instead of focussing on expensive keep cups and vilifying plastic, we should focus on making the most sustainable solution—a mug and saucer—a better experience?
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