The reusable coffee cup symbolises a change in thinking: A time when people realised that single-use plastic cups harm the environment and started to look for more sustainable alternatives. The cup is connected to several current issues in society that go beyond environmentalism and also deal with the human psyche.

Coffee culture has been evolving constantly and it shapes people’s everyday life. Initially coffee houses were seen as “a ‘third place’ – between home and work – where people could enjoy a luxurious snack while they gather and gossip” (Robson, 2019), a place to relax and decelerate everyday life. While this may still be true for countries like Spain and Italy, especially Japan, the United States and Canada have noticed a shift in the last couple of years. “Coffee-to-go has grown in popularity across the globe in recent years” (Statista, 2017). 

Graph: coffee-to-go orders by country

How is a cup a symbol for the first quarter of the 21st century? It represents three very current issues of our society: Firstly, the cup symbolises environmental pollution through single-use/throw-away plastic. The reusable cup is a more sustainable alternative to the previously popular single-use plastic cups and shows a rise in awareness in our current society. Secondly, it is connected to the glorification of hustle culture. A widespread mindset that keeps us working non-stop and tells us it is necessary to put work above our well-being to be successful in life. Coffee consumption plays a big part in that unhealthy way of thinking. Lastly, the cup symbolises a trend that is recently gaining new popularity: Glamping. Since the world has been going through the Covid-19 pandemic, travelling has been difficult or at times simply not possible. As a consequence of the restrictions we faced through this pandemic, glamping (which is a more glamorous way of camping) was an easy way out of the familiar surroundings to keep a healthy mindset in a challenging time. 

The reusable coffee cup is an important part of this virtual time capsule because it captures all these current issues of the 21st century. The cup plays a crucial role in these new emerging relationships since it is now an option to travel with it. Over time there have been several different kinds of cups or mugs that all serve different purposes. 

Selection of different coffee cups

pollution is almost inevitable

Plastic pollution is complex and difficult to manage. Therefore, it has its paragraph on the environmentalism page with an additional well summarising video. “In 2015, 407 million tonnes of plastic was produced, of which 164 Mt was consumed by packaging” (Rhodes,2018). Looking at these numbers can be terrifying. Thus, sometimes it is helpful to zoom in on a specific example that helps clarify some overarching problems. To reduce plastic in our everyday life we have adapted diverse strategies like bringing our reusable cup to the coffee shop to not produce waste by buying a new single-use plastic cup every time we want to get coffee. Time Out explores how sustainable some “eco-trends”(Cunningham, 2021) are by conducting interviews with experts in the field. François Saunier, who works at the research institute CIRAIG, explains that “you need to reuse cups between 100 and 250 times to make them ‘environmentally preferable to single-use cups’. That’s because of the resources it takes to make them and repeatedly wash them” (Cunningham, 2021). This emphasises the “reuse” aspect of the cup. Environmental awareness needs to go beyond the thought of a quick and uncomplicated solution. By participating in the current eco-trend of using reusable cups we do the first step in the right direction but it is important to further expand this approach. Saunier continues to state that the “greenest option is to not take out your coffee at all – drink it where you bought it” (Cunningham, 2021). This approach provides not only benefits for the environment but also people’s mental health.

the hustle towards burnout

Maize magazine has defined hustle culture as “a trend where people believe that the most important aspect of life is to achieve professional goals by relentlessly and continuously working hard. Any chance of self-fulfilment depends on the grind and personal sacrifice” (2020). This trend of hustling is increasing and can be seen in studies that show how currently “workers around the world are putting in an average of 9.2 hours of unpaid overtime per week – up from 7.3 hours just a year ago” (Lufkin, 2021). People who are considered successful in their jobs like CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk promote the hustle: 


Name: coffee cup 

3D Model

Creator: Tom Gerbert  

Date: 20-01-2022

Place: Frankfurt, Germany

Themes: Environmentalism

Captured with Nikon Coolpix L820

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Mac iOS


Physical Object

Size: Diameter top: 9,5 cm; Diameter bottom: 6,5 cm; Scope top: 27 cm; Scope bottom:   22 cm

Weight: 342 gram

Material: rice husk (cup), hard plastic (lid) 
Tweet Elon Musk

Somehow, we see overworking as “a status symbol that puts us on the path to success, whether we define that by wealth or an Instagram post that makes it seem like we’re living a dream life with a dream job” (Lufkin, 2021). This hustle culture is closely entangled with and emphasises the current coffee culture. As written above, many times we like to take our coffee to go because we think that we do not have time to sit down and take a break from our work, from our hustle. Drinking coffee means that we need to recharge our battery to have a clear mind and to be able to focus again. Instead of taking a break we turn to the coffee machine to get another hot drink. However, the positive results only last for minutes whereas, in the long run, it leads to “exhaustion and burnout” (Maize, 2020). This paradox is clearly explained in the following video.

The paradox of hustle culture

taking a break 

Finally, a topic that shaped especially the last couple of years in the 21st century can be addressed: Covid. The Covid-19 virus has spread across the whole world and “has dismantled the hospitality industry” (Bagnera, 2020). While the world had to shut down, travelling has become impossible at times. The travel restrictions required creativity from those who still wanted to get out of their daily routine. Since travelling far away was not an option, people started to go camping again. This trend has a couple of advantages because “with increased demands for social distancing, camping could very well be this summer’s best vacation plan” (Bagnera, 2020). Not only did people start to pitch a tent in their home country to leave the house in these challenging times but they also desired a break from all the chaos around them. Thus, “concepts like ‘glamping’ have taken a significant hit” (Bagnera, 2020). Glamping is a more glamorous way of camping. Since the reusable cup is made out of robust materials, like rice husk and hard plastic which do not break easily, it is the best option for drinking coffee or tea at the campsite. Covid-19 has made many things impossible but exactly because of these obstacles people found a way to make the best out of their current situation. 

Reusable Cup that works for glamping

Coffee culture in the 21st century has as many different facets and they all come with their own risks and in their own cups, we just have to know how to deal with them. 


Bagnera, S. M. (2020, March 31). Camping Amidst COVID-19 | Boston Hospitality Review. © 2022 Boston University.

Cunningham, E. (2021, November 10). Are reusable coffee cups actually good for the environment? Time Out London.,environment%20as%20their%20disposable%20counterparts

Lufkin, B. (2021, May 10). Why do we buy into the “cult” of overwork? BBC Worklife.

Maize. (2020, December 2). The rise and grind of Hustle Culture. Maize.

Statista. (2017, August 14). The Countries That Love Coffee-To-Go. Statista Infographics.

Rhodes, C. J. (2018). Plastic Pollution and Potential Solutions. Science Progress, 101(3), 207–260. 

Robson, D. (2019). How the world came to run on coffee. BBC.Com.

The Paradox of Hustle Culture. (2020, March 3). [Video]. YouTube.