Every day I have the same dilemma, should I use a metal teaspoon to stir my tea or a wooden stirrer?
I try to live in an environmentally friendly way, I buy local produce where I can, try to avoid air freight, turn off my unused lights, try not to waste food – the usual. But our preconceptions of how to be ‘green’ may not always be right. For example, most people would agree that it is more environmentally friendly to use public transport than a car, BUT what if you are one of only a handful of people on the train? It then becomes more complex.
Anyone who tries to be environmentally friendly, may -like me- find the same questions arising in the mind on a day to day basis. Should I use a hand dryer or a paper towel? Local produce grown in a heated greenhouse or shipped in from abroad? Gas fire or electric heater? Which brings me back to my original question.
The environmental impact can be calculated for any item by looking at the energy and resources required to create it, (if it is reusable) the energy required to maintain it and the ecological cost of disposing or recycling it.
Wooden stirrers are disposable, requiring relatively low amounts of energy to manufacture and will biodegrade. However they are only usable once. Metal teaspoons on the other hand, require significantly more energy to manufacture. The ore must be extracted, smelted and then shaped which requires extremely high temperatures and a huge amount of energy. They cannot be properly disposed of easily and are not biodegrade, but they could be recycled, are reusable and last for decades (the teaspoons at my Gran’s house are about 60 years old!).
So teaspoons are looking like the winner, but now the plot thickens, what about when you wash your teaspoon? Do you run it under a little cold water or wash it up in hot water? Do you wash it up by hand or in the dishwasher? A full, modern dishwasher is more efficient and saves more water when compared to the average person washing up.
So if you already have a teaspoon, you should probably use it, just make sure to fill up your dishwasher properly!
But what about cafe’s and coffee shops? Here you are frequently left with only the choice between a wooden and a plastic stirrer. Wooden wins for energy consumption, generating only small levels of pollution from production and biodegradability. BUT for ecological impact and consumption of resources, plastic wins.
So to some extent it comes down to personal preference, are you more concerned about the destruction of trees required for wooden stirrers (which may or may not be replaced), or the pollution and disposal problems of plastic? Nothing is straightforward.
I think I might stick with stirring my coffee with the end of a pen (not the end you write with, the other one) and wiping my wet hands on my jeans rather than tackling the whole paper towel vs hand dryer debate.
Thanks for reading