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SF targets coffee cups in latest anti-waste campaign

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The Department of the Environment promotes reusable mugs at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept 12, 2018.

San Franciscans love their daily coffee. Hipsteresque joints spot The City’s streets, and regular, consistent jolts of caffeine seem ingrained into San Francisco’s DNA.

Yet, with all the coffee poured into single-use, disposable cups and swiped past the counter, also comes an abundance of waste.

In the spirit of San Francisco hosting the Global Climate Action Summit this week, a huddle of politicians, activists and leaders from across the globe to discuss global warming, the San Francisco Department of the Environment hosted a coffee pop-up experience at Civic Center Plaza to promote a new campaign geared toward waste reduction.  

The pop-up, “Refuse Reuse,” represents a key component of the City’s ambitious zero waste commitment, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Free, reusable mugs — and coffee — were handed out to patrons outside City Hall to inspire people to reduce waste.

According to Luke Easdale, senior marketing strategist for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, San Franciscans use an estimated 300 million disposal cups a year. Easdale said the “Refuse Reuse” campaign is to encourage people to refuse using disposable items, where possible, and bring and use reusable ones instead:

“Refuse using single-use items like a plastic bag, disposal water bottle or something like a disposable cup; instead, bring your reusable bag, bring your reusable water bottle, bring your reusable mug.”

Easdale continued:

“That’s why we are here. Whilst these actions may seem small on an individual basis [but] when you’re looking at that 300 million number it is a significant impact. It’s just a simple and easy way for people to get involved and to see how personal action has a big impact when looked at collectively.”

Earlier this week, ahead of the summit meeting, Mayor London Breed set new environmental goals to cut the City’s greenhouse gas emissions, saying that it was time for leaders to recognize climate change as a reality.  

Gov. Jerry Brown, on Monday, signed legislation that would make all of California’s electricity come from clean power sources by 2045 in an effort to combat climate change. With the bill, introduced by state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), California joins Hawaii as the only two states that have made such a pledge. The law takes effect in January.

But, much to the ire of environmental advocates, President Trump last year announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Trump has since rolled back a string of Obama-era climate rules, with the latest coming as an ease on requirements to limit leaks of methane.

Yet, in an effort to curb climate change, the San Francisco summit not only celebrates the achievements made thus far, but also to advance the 2015 Paris agreement.

A line of people, waiting for their free mugs and coffee, snaked outside the “Refuse Reuse” booth. Folks snapped pictures of their mugs and posted them online with the hashtag #sfthingtodo.

Kollin Knight, a San Francisco resident, who attends City College of San Francisco and who had just received his free mug, told SFBay his feelings about the zero waste initiative:

“I like the movement and what [SF Environment is doing]. It’s such a small step that people really take for granted … So the only solution is going to be reusable cups; it’s just something people need to get used to if you’re really trying to make an environmental impact.”

Debbie Raphael, director of SF Environment, hopes that the “Refuse Reuse” program will inspire people to “not waste so much,” use their reusable mugs and set a precedence of what people do in San Francisco; that is, to reduce unnecessary single-use items:

“There is an iceberg of waste — for every pound of product that you hold in your hand there are 70 pounds of waste generated upstream from mining, transportation, manufacturing, [which] all contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change. So if we’re serious about healing the planet, one place we can start is by not generating so much waste, to begin with.”

Raphael continued:

“It’s important for every person to do what they can, and it doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. It can be joyful like finding a really cool reusable cup and making that your daily action.”

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