Saving the Planet, One £20 Cup at a Time?

An unboxing. A review. A signal of virtue. An irreversible step in to the liberal metropolitan elite, although they do have all the best stuff. A positive step for the environment.

Thanks to Planet Earth 2 and Blue Planet 2, but apparently not Planet Earth 1 or Blue Planet 1, there has been a societal shift in the way we think about waste. Especially coffee cups and plastics. In hindsight it’s embarrassingly obvious that drinking a water or a coffee then immediately disposing of the container, times hundreds of millions each day across the world, was a bad idea. But I guess that’s hindsight for you.

My first hop on to the reusable bandwagon was a bamboo coffee cup. Bamboo is a common natural material requiring little processing, so it makes you look like a real environmentalist for a low price. It also conducts heat to your hands like a bastard and becomes irreversibly stained after first use. So that one is currently biodegrading at a tip somewhere in South London.

After a few more weeks of plastic bottles and paper cups I put in an order at Chilly’s. These are the guys who started painting steel water bottles rose gold, then watched this happen to their net assets:

That is good growth in mega-pounds. And I certainly helped by putting up 2e-5 M£ for a shiny, stainless steel coffee cup, and chased it with another 2e-5 M£ on a water bottle.

Time for an unprofessional unboxing.

It would be fair to say that my skill with backlighting is only bettered by my landlord’s skill at picking a banging rug. But this is the only time I have been posted some cardboard dreds, so I was keen to share the image. Arguably there was an excess of cardboard, but at least the bottle tube will come in handy for surreptitiously storing whiskey at the office.

Here it is. My matte red, swanky water bottle gently shimmering under the assault of my phone camera flash. One trip to my local gym taught me I had missed the memo on colour- it is strictly steel for men and rose gold for women. The other colours are only meant to be on the website to give you an illusion of choice or free will. Those are my empirical observations from a 45 minute session.

I opted for the 500ml version. It also comes in sizes of 260 ml (an unconventional hipflask?), 1.8 l (why?), and 750 ml. The 750 ml is obviously a great choice: it goes 50% longer, can store an entire bottle of wine and can be converted in to a club if you are being burgled. But it is £5 more expensive, so my tight inner northerner forever deprived me of those options.

It’s actually a great piece. It keeps my water cool for hours, but most importantly, allows me to lord it over the fools in the work kitchen as they refill their Buxton bottles. 10/10.

On to the coffee mug. If you like Starbucks or Costa, do not get this mug. While it is the largest size Chilly’s sell, it can only take a small coffee. Or if you live in a hipster part of South London like me, 2 large coffees.

This mug was designed by a brilliant, totally uncompromising engineer. It is so slick and hydrophobic that it gets watermarks everywhere. It is also near-perfectly insulated. The temperature of the steel exterior does not change perceptibly over 20 minutes of storing tea or coffee.

Similarly the temperature of the tea or coffee does not change perceptibly over those 20 minutes, meaning you burn your already scorched tongue with every sip you take. The only way to lose heat in this time is to take off the lid, which reveals a key part of the insulating design. There is an o-ring inside the lid which forms a tight seal. While it keeps the heat in, it makes the lid quite difficult to remove.

This, coupled with the smooth steel base makes cup control difficult, increasing the risk of total spillage of your near boiling drink. And because the nice barista filled your reusable mug to the top, there is coffee around the o-ring and the inner part of the lid, which then goes all over your hands, desk and sometimes trousers.

I have great respect for the designer of this cup. It is perfect in every way right up until the time it interfaces with a human. Our easy to burn tongue cells and our desire for clean trousers makes us unworthy of this masterpiece. 9/10.

Do I feel better having spent £40 on two fancy drinks containers, when I could have found a similar set in Morrison’s for a tenner?

Well, yes.

Have I saved the planet?

Eliminating waste is a good goal. It reduces the amount of resources we need and we don’t need to find new places to dispose of yet more waste. But we shouldn’t feel too good about ourselves, and that’s to all of the reusable bottle and bag brigade out there.

Climate change is the true enemy. That’s what is raising sea levels, altering rain patterns, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, destroying ecosystems and driving species that can’t adapt quickly enough to extinction. That transatlantic flight you are taking next year? That’s the plastic hoop around the turtle’s neck that you can’t see.

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