The pandemic has been a boon to plastics makers. Nowhere is that more obvious than in hospitals. It seems nearly everything in the hospital is plastic, single-use.

They once provided a cup of ice and a pitcher for the patient to have a steady supply of water. Since the pandemic set in, water refills come each in a new cup, which goes, when emptied, in the landfill.

Another plastic peskiness comes with take-out food. I have to remember to tell the person handing my dinner that I am eating at home and have no need for another set of plastic knives and forks.

I also do not need a straw with my drink from the fast food place. The stainless steel straw poking out of my stainless steel reusable cup will do just fine, thank you.

My biggest beef is with the containers wrapped around our selected libation. We drive up to the kiosk, order a drink, move to Window Number Two, and collect a non-recyclable plastic cup with a non-recyclable plastic cover and a non-recyclable plastic straw – the latter usually handed separately, still enclosed in a paper wrapping.

Multiply that trash by all the cars in line, times the people in the cars– that is a lot of trash headed for a landfill or, worse, a roadside near home or along a hiking path in the nearby woods.  

At a turnpike service area one recent summer, I ordered a large cup of black coffee and offered my reusable cup.

“If you want, you can pour it into your cup and throw that one away,” the counterperson said, handing me a corporate-imprinted cup with a plastic cover. “It’s the law.”

A similar situation arose at an outdoor market I visited last year.

“Covid,” was the one-word reason the server gave for refusing to pour my java from the coffee pot into my cup.

It is not “the law” and it’s not the “pandemic,” though the latter excuse, in the days before we knew the virus could not spread on grocery bags, was a legitimate-sounding explanation.

In fact – and this is true – drink cups often are a form of inventory control. The cups are counted at the beginning and end of the day, and the cash drawer should have money for each missing cup. If customers are allowed to provide their own cups, maybe the server pockets the price of the coffee or soda and there is no way for the shop owner to know.

Meanwhile, the price of that cup of coffee includes the cost of having the empty cup hauled to the landfill. Which is not to say the coffee seller will offer a discount when you show up with a reusable cup, but you can take some solace in knowing you have cut the proprietor’s costs by a couple of pennies.

Most reusable cups will keep hot drinks hotter longer and cold drinks colder longer. As a bonus, they can be personalized with souvenirs of places and events we’ve visited. 

Lovers of those tiny cups of ultra-black café, may be pleased to know there is a company making some really nifty coffee cups that fit under espresso spouts – something that cannot occur with my 16-ounce mug.

Plastic, by the way, does degrade – into plastic microparticles we breath and consume with other food. Earth Day is April 22. The next time the barista serves up a plastic cup of chai, give a thought to the planet, the only home we have, and to the pollution being created for our own consumption.

Thanks for coming along. Please take a moment to share the trip with friends. Reusing readers is a good thing.