Buy a Traveler’s Coffee Mug

Paper cupTravel mug

I frequent this amazing coffee shop (within walking distance of Synthesis), and just watch paper cups leave that establishment in pounds. Every once in a while somebody (hopefully me) shows up with a travel mug — a reusable mug — and asks for coffee in that instead.

Its a simple question — which is “worse”? A paper cup, or a travel mug?

You can easily go either side on this debate: the paper cup is cheaper to manufacture, therefore it probably “impacts” the environment less; more paper cups are made every year than travel mugs (probably), so the impact of the paper cups as a whole are probably more; the travel mug is made of aluminum, whereas paper cups are just paper — mining aluminum seems more intensive than cutting down trees, the mug must be worse. What I think is missing from all these arguments is time.

Take a look at WattzOn‘s energy labels for both of those: the paper cup and the travel mug. The travel mug clearly has more embodied energy in it — almost 30x the amount, in fact. In other words, it probably took 30 times the energy to get all the raw materials together for the travel mug when compared to the paper cup. But, your paper cup is disposable: a paper cup’s lifespan, while in your possession, is probably on the order of days whereas the travel mug, will stick around for years. Think of it this way – drink coffee five days a week? That’s about 250 cups a year, or 2500 cups for 10 years, the lifespan of that travel mug. Just looking at it that way, we’re talking about 90 times more energy in those paper cups over the 10 years. That 30x for the embodied energy is starting to look good, isn’t it?

This is why we use watts. We’re introducing time into the equation to give you a real way to compare these objects, services, and activities together. Watts give you a real and measurable way to have conservations about power usage and conservation. Crunching the numbers, and the labels show, the paper cup is 8.3 watts compared to the 0.06 watts of the traveler’s mug. The less powerful the better: buy yourself a travel mug and use that religiously instead.

This simple life cycle analysis is what WattzOn is good at right now (contribute by editing the paper cup or editing the travel mug, or creating a new item in the EED) — but it does bring up questions of how much water is being used to wash out that mug, the manufacturing processes involved in those two cups, and the shipping, marking, and distribution methodologies that are not being well accounted for now. But, these are all part of WattzOn’s mission. We want to give consumers the ability to ask these questions, come up with conclusions, and make informed choices that can affect change.

ps. Zing, the aforementioned coffee shop, kindly gives you a discount if you show up with a travel mug. Tell them Raffi sent you.


WattzOn Labs is always innovating ways to engage people to save water and energy. It showcases the WattzOn products under the WattzOn Labs private-label. We don’t market these products, but use this small-scale direct-to-consumer experience to constantly evolve and learn. Then we apply the findings to the rich, private-label products used by all our customers at WattzOn.