One of the only things I actually asked for this holiday season was a travel coffee mug so I wouldn’t be wasting so many paper or plastic coffee cups during my highly caffeinated day.
Today, I felt good about taking my reusable coffee mug into Caribou coffee. At first everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Not only was I saving money by paying $1.50 for a cup of coffee instead of $1.55, but I was also doing my tiny part to save the environment by not using a paper cup and disposable plastic sip cover. Hell, I was even saving the Caribou corporation a few fractions of a cent by not using up one of their cups. Everything was brighter and greener in the world… From the environment, to the tip cup to my pocketbook.
I didn’t start to feel conflicted until I went back later in the day to get a refill. Usually when I buy a cup of coffee from the Caribou down the street, they let me come in once during the day for a free refill in my paper cup. I usually throw close to a dollar into their tip jar when I do this. Though the staff at Caribou changes in the middle of the day, the night baristas know that I have made a purchase because I have one of their cups in my hand. Today, I was charged the full $1.50 for my refill. The night crew had no way of knowing that I had bought a cup of coffee earlier in the day since I was using the travel mug.
I’m not upset about having to pay for my coffee twice. I’m not even sure that it is store policy to give out free refills to customers who leave the store, but the fact that my attempt to conserve resources cost me more financially struck me. I saw it as a microcosm of how our consumer culture is set up. Not only is the consumer world set up to take us for everything we are worth when selling us products we don’t need, but there are also subtle deterrents to environmentally conscious ways of conducting business. On the surface, I am saving $.05 per cup of coffee, but am losing $1.50 a day. Coffee and cups don’t cost a company like Caribou that much and, in the long run, that extra five cents a day is probably more profitable to them after material costs than simply selling me coffee in my travel mug. In addition to profit, the value of having me run around town with the company’s logo on my coffee cup is probably much more valuable to Caribou than the extra $1.50 they will make from me for a refill.
How this will affect my coffee consumption habits, I am not quite sure. Perhaps I will simply brew coffee at home for my first cup of the day and save the $.05 without having to worry about being charged for a refill.
I just needed to ramble. I could be completely off base.