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Changing the Way We Waste, One Cup at a Time

By Christine Liu · U.S.

We live in a society that values convenience. Sometimes, this can take a toll. We’re generating solid waste in unimaginable amounts. Consider this: 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage, the weight of about 7,000 Empire State Buildings (per The Atlantic magazine). It’s what we’ll generate as a human race, this year alone. In the United States, we are creating 35 tons of waste each year, accounting for the weight of all the cars in a big rental lot at O’Hare or JFK airport. It’s not something we should be proud of. What’s more, we’re posing a serious threat to our planet.

We can’t change the way the world operates all at once, but we at Cisco can take a look at ourselves and make small changes that matter and benefit everyone. For instance, the average Cisco employee uses about 1500 disposable cups per year. This is three times the national average. As someone who is familiar with the issue of waste, I happened to chat with coworkers about reducing waste in the office. What started off as casual conversation evolved into a passionate green team dedicated to making our work area, the San Jose MR2 building, a Green Zone. This team consists of myself, Glen Bebe, Midori Mori, and Nathalia Perez. Before I knew it, we were well on our way to spreading the word on reducing waste, one cup at a time.

Photo of Christine Liu and team
Glen Beebe, Vicky Tran, and Midori Mori are in shock as they find paper cups littered throughout the Cisco parking lot.

Our team wanted to make sustainable actions simple and fun for everyone, so behavior change becomes easy. While the issue of waste is a serious one, crafting a positive and encouraging image to nudge people towards the right direction was essential to making our movement happen. We began with posting fun images around the office space to educate employees about cup wastage. Our friendly earth mascot would give a quick shout out that ”One million cups are thrown away every minute, bring your own mug”, along with other messages giving gentle reminders to reduce consumption. During our lunch hours, we'd walk throughout the building, looking for strategic areas to place the signage in break rooms and near trash cans—easy to see areas—that were vital in getting our word out.

Photo of Christine Liu and team
Vicky Tran, Glen Beebe, and Christine Liu are all smiles with their friendly earth mascot for the BYOC campaign.

Once these images were posted throughout the building, people started talking, and we got into action. The MR2 green team ran their first “Bring Your Own Cup Campaign”, a small two-day initiative which encouraged all employees in the building to bring their own reusable bottle or mug and check it in at our station for the chance to win a Starbucks gift card. Employees could come and chat with us about the issue, get their hand stamped with our friendly earth mascot, and take a picture with their reusables to be put into a collage featuring all our participants.

To our amazement, the event was a success–not only did the green team and its volunteers have plenty of fun running the booth and getting employees involved, but they managed to make a dent in changing the reusable cup culture in the MR2 building. We had 130 employees come and check in their reusables during the campaign.

Just a year’s worth of this positive behavior from our employees could do the following to help our earth:

  • Divert 2,900 lbs of disposable cup waste into the landfill—use one disposable cup per day and you'll generate 23 lbs of waste per year.
  • Save 40,345 gallons of water a year utilized to manufacture paper cups.
  • Eliminate 48,750 lbs of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere due to paper cup creation.

The MR2 green team cannot wait to start another campaign this upcoming quarter, and is looking forward to creating more change in the way we waste at Cisco. Would you like to run your own BYOC campaign or form a green team? Get in contact with the San Jose Green Team to get started. If you already bring your own cup, or reduce your impact in another way, please share it on Cisco GreenHouse, a new employee site designed to connect you with tips and resources you can use to benefit the world.

Reach out via contact_ciscogreen@cisco.com with questions and feedback.

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