‘Re-use’ is often a better way to go than ‘recycle’, especially since it’s become apparent that in many cases we’ve been conned about recycling. According to Friends of the Earth, who cite their source here , only 9% of plastics made have ever been recycled. To me, this means we all have to think about plastic use way beyond straws, bottles and sponge scourers (but including all those too).
Re-usable coffee cups are definitely one of the ways of preventing the staggering amount of un-recyclable material that is incinerated, buried in landfill or ends up in the sea, via the beach (you might be surprised how many people I see going down to my local beach with a disposable coffee cup in hand). But if your re-usable cup is itself made of plastic, what’s going to happen to it in the end?
To avoid this worry, you could buy one that’s not made of plastic. I recently tried one out. Called Huskup it is made from rice husks. These are the hard outer ‘shell’ of grains of rice which humans can’t really digest, hence they are removed and now made into a re-usable coffee cup. (The lid and heatproof band are made of a silicone, which is a synthetic polymer, but since the main body of the cup is NOT plastic its still has decent eco credentials).
Huskup review: here’s what I thought of it…
One of the big pluses of a cup like this for me, as opposed to the kind that is more flask-like in design, is weight. The Huskup weighs a little over 150g (according to my kitchen scales). It holds 400ml of liquid, which I guess is equivalent to a standard size hot drink, and is about 14cm tall (around five-and-a-half inches in old money). It is therefore not too bulky and irritating to carry around.
My first outing with it was using it for my second cup of coffee of the day as I dashed for a train. I pre-warmed it before filling, as I usually do with mugs at home, and implored my husband several times, “Don’t let me forget my coffee!” as I ran around gathering luggage as I was going on an overnight press trip. Helpfully he took it out to the car, where it fitted perfectly in the cup holder. My coffee was still warm after the 10-minute drive to the station and I drank it while waiting for the train.
Because we are still living on a plastic planet, and because I try to re-use stuff rather than throw it away, I then wrapped it in a plastic mailing bag I’d brought with me to avoid coffee drips in my bag. I usually put a napkin or bit of kitchen roll inside too – to soak up any drips.
Its next test was using it for its designated purpose, avoiding disposable cups. I bought a cup of tea at one of the branches of Cafe Nero in London’s Paddington station. (I wouldn’t normally go here, as they have a history of tax avoidance, but needs must). I wasn’t offered a discount for re-filling but the barista didn’t bat an eyelid at me proffering my own cup – proving that taking your own cup is fast becoming a normal thing to do. I now discovered a downside of the Huskup not being insulated. Although it has a heatproof silicone band around the middle, I found I needed a cardboard sleeve to avoid burning my fingers. BUT, I did have a bit of eczema at the time so my finger tips were especially sensitive. Under normal circumstances it might have been fine, but I think that silicone band could usefully be a little wider than the inch (2.5cm) it currently is.
Despite this problem I got to the train, wheeling a suitcase in one hand and holding my tea in the other and in a bit of a hurry, without spilling a drop. It dribbled a bit on the train, but I think that was caused by a wet tea bag string. The tea stayed pretty hot, needing a little cooling time before I could drink it. It was comparable with an insulated disposable cup. Afterwards, it went back in the mailer bag until my journey home the next day.
Huskup’s next test would be at Pret A Manger in St Pancras. Tea again, but this time I was also getting a sandwich so I’d need to stow it in a paper bag to carry to the train. Pret gives you 50p off when you use a refillable cup. This meant my tea was just £1.30 and got me thinking that it would not take long for the Huskup, which retails at £10.95, to pay for itself. The barista complimented me on my cup, saying it felt nice and tossing it in the air (only a few inches!) to demonstrate. Once filled, I put it in the paper bag with my sandwich and headed up the escalator to the train. Still no spills and the bag managed the weight of the cup fine.
I sometimes keep the lid on cups when I have a hot drink on a train, to avoid an accident if the train lurches or brakes suddenly. I wondered if drinking through a silicone lid would feel – or taste – weird, but it was fine. In fact the tea tasted much better this time – which made me realise the flavour of the previous one was nothing to do with the cup and all to do with the tea.
Overall I was pleased with the Huskup. The barista was right, it feels nice and fairly sturdy, but it’s not too heavy to put you off taking it out with you for the day. The one I was sent to review was the ‘Thumbs Up’ design but they are also available in a range of other more attractive designs (and yes I will admit I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t send me the lovely, green leafy one pictured above). If you pick the right places to fill up, the discount for going reusable soon pays for the cup. What more reason do you need to give up disposable cups?