Wednesday, 11 September 2013

How do you take your coffee?

You don't always live your beliefs 100% through, 100% of the time.

That was the realisation I came to last Friday when I walked into my local coffee joint at work. Camilla, the barista greeted me by name, as always (I guess that shows I'm an honest to goodness regular there!) before putting through my order.

As I was waiting for my soy flat white, I was surprised to hear her say, "Amanda, you get quite a lot of takeaways, have you thought about getting a KeepCup? It's much better for the environment than takeaway cups."

Now, I'm the Sustainability Specialist at my work, so of course I have thought about KeepCups. In fact, we looked into getting these for the entire organisation but found the price a little restrictive, so we didn't pursue it. And of course I'd thought about bringing in my own travel mug to work, but somehow always seemed to forget it in the morning rush.

So when Camilla suggested that I get one, I was in half parts impressed that she was suggesting this to all the other customers (they have now put up little posters encouraging people to bring their own cups) and half parts mortified that I wasn't already doing it.

I mean. I am supposed to be setting an example. And that's when I realised that I can't be 100% good, 100% of the time. I try to do the best I can, but I'd say I waver on the 80 / 20 scale. And that's okay. I'm only human. If more humans tried the 80 / 20, I would argue that the world would be a much better place.

So, in support of Camilla, here are some facts that might help you make a better choice 80% of the time when it comes to your morning coffee:
  • 500 billion disposable cups are manufactured globally every year, which equates to approximately 75 disposable cups per person on the planet.
  • In the US, 58 billion disposable cups are thrown out every year. The majority ends up in landfill. Polystyrene cups are not biodegradable and will remain in landfill for up to 500 years. 
  • Whilst the paper in paper cups are recyclable, to make them heat proof, they are coated in polyethylene plastic. This means they cannot be recycled and they end up in landfill where they decompose, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas with 24 times the heat retaining power of carbon dioxide.
  • World paper use has exploded by 400% in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees or 35% of the total trees chopped down are used in paper industries on every continent.
  • Biodegradable cups are non-recyclable. They have to go to a commercial composting facility.
  • 98 tonnes of resources are used to make 1 tonne of paper.
  • Very little recycled paper is used to make disposable cups because of contamination concerns. 
  •  71% of the world’s paper supply comes from natural forests, not tree farms or the recycled paper.
  • Making a medium sized disposable cup emits 112g of CO2 emissions. Times that by 500 billion cups per year.
So, now that you have the facts, what will you do? Are you more keen to get a travel mug and take it to your local coffee shop, or are you just as happy to get a takeaway cup as you were before?

I know I've been mortified into remembering to bring my own cup into work, that's for sure!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

An Ode to New Oreleans, Louisiana

Legacy of Katrina on the bayou - Louisiana 2012
It was a lifetime ago I began planning my first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Nature and human greed, respectively, thwarted both my prior attempts, once in 2005 and the next time in 2010. It wasn't until 2012 that I finally set foot on the cobbled streets of the Vieux Carre; breathed in my first lungful of the wet, mossy scent of a Louisiana bayou.

I remember looking out of the window of the plane after a harrowing 38 hour journey from Australia and seeing the darkness of the marshes painted silver with moonlight. I remember seeing New Orleans City, twinkling invitingly below and feeling an overwhelming sense of coming home.

Odd for a woman who had never been to the State of Louisiana before. A woman who had never been to the South of the US before, for that matter. It struck my highly rational, legal and scientific mind as a very odd feeling indeed.

Where the initial attraction to Louisiana originated, I cannot tell. No doubt the countless books I consumed set in Louisiana's mystical bayou had something to do with it. Those books must have woven some subtle magic over me, cast some sort of spell through the rhythm of their words, because eventually desire to explore this State, and New Orleans specifically, turned into a deep, gnawing need, to feel for myself the heat of the Louisiana summer, to breathe the damp, musky smell of the swamp.

Bayou - Louisiana
Stepping into the bustling streets of New Orleans that night  - despite the bone weary tiredness that can only come from journeying so far, for so long - I fell totally and irrevocably in love with the city.

I'm talking head over heels, true, madly, deeply in love.

From the moment I set foot on Louisiana soil, it was like a tiny spark had been lit inside me. A flame that grew hotter and brighter each day I spent there. My weariness dissolved. My heartache and the bitterness of past failures seemed to slough away like discarded snake skin.

It was cathartic.

I loved the city with it's cobbled streets. I loved the oppressive heat that rose from the sidewalks and curled around my ankles like a cat, as I meandered down Rue Royale onto Rue St Ann. I loved the sound of jazz tripping and tumbling over pockets of hot air like acrobats, following me around from street to street. I loved the artists and the fortune tellers sitting in Jackson Square and the scrumptiously tempting smell of beignets drifting alluringly from Cafe du Monde.

Musicians in Jackson Square
I fell in love with everything about that city, with its exotic and beautiful and macabre history.

Most of all I fell in love with the people. People who, despite everything life had thrown at them, (from the devastation of Katrina, whose violence had left scars visible for those who knew what to look for, to the corporate greed of a company who destroyed the ecosystems upon which many locals had relied upon for a living) still greeted you with a genuine smile, a kind word and a good story.

As an avid and frequent traveler I can honestly say I've never felt such a connection with a city before. So much so that, ten months after my initial trip, I was back in New Orleans to celebrate my birthday.

My connection with the city hadn't changed a bit. Looking down at the sun-lit swamps, at the rivers snaking through rich and vibrant greenery, I felt that familiar warm feeling of home-coming.

What ever the reason, however crazy it may seem, New Orleans is good for my soul.

On the bayou, Louisiana