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The life of a paper cup

Now, let’s listen to an explanation of the life of a paper, or disposable cup. While you listen, write down some notes. When you have finished, check your notes by looking at the flow-diagram below.

In previous steps, we looked at the 4 targets that the University is aiming to achieve in the future.

Here they are again:

  1. Cut our total carbon footprint by 33% by 2020
  2. Reduce waste to landfill by 50% by 2021
  3. Be 20% more energy efficient by 2025
  4. Be 100% renewable by 2030

It was also explained in the previous step, that in order to achieve these aims it is important to realise that even small steps can have bigger effects in many other areas. This is called “cross-over.”

The Life of a Paper Cup

Now, let’s listen to an explanation of the life of a paper, or disposable cup. While you listen, write down some notes. When you have finished, check your notes by looking at the flow-diagram below.

The life of a paper cup

Now, check your notes by looking at the flow-diagram below.

The life of a paper cup - Cut down trees, transport lumber, trees debarked and chipped, transport chips, chips converted to pulp, pulp bleached, transport pulp, pulp to paper, paper cups, cups packaged and delivered, cups used in commons, cups thrown out, cups sit in landfill and NEVER biodegrade. 750,000 cups a year transported to Lewiston Landfill

Have a look at the flow-diagram above and answer the questions.*

  1. How many steps are shown from start to finish for a paper cup?
  2. How many times are trucks used?
  3. What are some of the other side-effects of producing a paper cup?
  4. What category from “Green Your Scene” does the life of a paper cup relate to?

No New Paper Cups

In order to stop creating new items, such as a paper cup, we should be looking at using items that we already have, or are already in circulation. One way to do this is to source, or find items that are second-hand. Second-hand items are cheaper to buy, and are sometimes even free. The University has many second-hand items, such as computers, printers, textbooks, etc, to keep items in use, rather than send them to landfill to become waste. If we can prevent something from becoming waste, then we can save a lot of energy.

Some examples of reusable items that are commonly in circulation now are: coffee cups, water bottles and food containers. Let’s have a look at these items in more detail.

Reusable vs Single Use Cups

At the University, coffee cups are soon going to be gone! Soon, you will need a reusable cup for all hot drinks in campus cafés. One incentive to make you use your own cup is that you will get 50 cents off your hot drink if you use a reusable cup. Cafés also have “lend” cups for anyone who has forgotten theirs.

Water bottles will also soon be gone! However, there will be places all over campus to provide free water to refill your own bottle.

A third item that is reusable is containers. Cafés on campus will allow you to bring your own container for any takeaway food that isn’t already pre-packaged.

Use Less Paper

Other ways to reuse materials commonly found around the campus is to use less paper, or prepare simple ways to avoid wasting paper. This can be achieved by double-siding all printing instead of printing on only one-side. Also, did you know that printing in black and white is ten times cheaper than printing in colour? Another action that can be easily done in the workplace is to scan documents and then send them to people instead of printing them out and distributing them to people. There are now many ways that you can share documents through the internet. In fact, this course is being done on the computer and doesn’t use any paper!


The fourth target is recovery. This means fixing, or repairing something so that it can be used for longer. There are many centres set up around the University to rescue items that would commonly be thrown out. These include things like furniture, beds, books, bicycles, etc. There are many bulletin boards to sell or give away any item that somebody doesn’t need anymore, but might be wanted by somebody else – remember that somebody’s waste might be another person’s treasure! In this way, many items are saved from becoming waste. They are recovered and put back into circulation.

The 4-step approach to reduce waste means that:

  • items are kept in use for a longer time
  • waste is reduced
  • carbon emissions are reduced

As a result of doing micro-steps and having a sustainable mind-set, the University will achieve it’s targets to reduce waste to landfill by 50% by 2021, become 20% more energy efficient by 2025, and finally, be 100% renewable by 2030. In brief, The University of Otago will dramatically reduce it’s carbon footprint.

1. underestimated 2. categorised 3. generated 4. recover
*Note: this vocabulary has been filtered through the Academic Word List from sublist 1 – up to and including sublist 5. Therefore, this course is designed to fit Intermediate Level English language learning students and above


Can you think of another item, like a paper cup, that goes through a similar cycle?

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English Language Learning Through Sustainability

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