Articles, Planet Forward, Uncategorized

5 Ways to be Sustainable in the Time of the Pumpkin Spiced Latte

I’m known for drinking a lot of coffee, and I mean epic, Gilmore-Girls-proportions of coffee. Whether I’m pulling an all-nighter or secretly enjoying a venti pumpkin spiced latte at Starbucks that I would never admit to ordering, I can seldom get through the day without a hit of caffeine.  While millennials are known for their excessive Starbucks orders, they aren’t the only ones drinking coffee. Worldwide, we drink an obscene amount of coffee every year.


In addition to the land problem we have, when we drink SO much coffee, there are inevitably harmful by-products. If we want to preserve the cherished coffee-growing areas, we need to be more responsible for our Earth as a whole. If the climate keeps changing the way it’s going, by 2050, there’ll be half as much land that’s usable for growing coffee beans. If this happens, there’s no way we can make 1,800 billion cups of coffee a year. Change needs to happen, and it starts with your cup of joe. By modifying the way we drink coffee, we can cut down our carbon footprint and cut back on waste, which will in turn lead to a cleaner Earth. Trouble may be brewing for the future, and if we don’t take strong action sometime soon, we will have a coffee crisis on our hands.  And it will be worse than when I found out that the salted caramel mocha Frappuccino is only sold seasonally.

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Here are five things you can actually do to help prevent the doomsday scenario that is a world without coffee.

1. Use Reusable Coffee Cupsgiphy (1)

Instead of throwing out a one-use cup at the end of every visit, why not bring your own cup to your local coffee shop?

Some stores have programs where they sell a refillable ceramic mug, and others offer discounts when you bring your own. Bruegger’s Bagels has a Bottomless Mug Club, where they sell a mug every year for a flat rate and give free coffee refills for the year when you bring the mug to their store. Starbucks has a program where they offer ten cents off of your coffee if you bring in your own mug. Additionally, many other independent establishments have similar programs; you just have to ask.

2. Ditch the K-Cup

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The Keurig machine and other single-serve brewing systems seemed like a great idea for the environment at first. While they may reduce the amount of coffee bought in foam cups in a coffee shop, they have an ugly by-product that is crowding landfills: the k-cup. What is it about the little plastic pods that has people making horror films about them? According to The AtlanticKeurig sold 9.8 billion pods of coffee in 2014, which, if lined up, would circle the Earth more than 12 times. Because the vast majority are not recyclable or biodegradable, they hog up landfills.

Currently, Keurig plans to make k-cups completely recyclable by 2020. They released the first recyclable k-cups in 2016.

3. Lose the Straw (for those Frappuccinos)

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Okay, so you might already know plastic straws aren’t the best for the environment. If you’re drinking an iced coffee or mixed coffee drink, chances are you don’t really even need a straw. It’s easy to forget to go straw-less, but sparing the straw does make a difference.

A little while back, I saw this video. I have to warn you, it’s a little graphic. If you’re queasy like me and couldn’t get through the whole thing, it is a video of rescuers prying a plastic straw out of a sea turtle’s nose. And if that isn’t sickening enough, check out some of  these stats.


4. Buy Local or Fair Trade Coffee

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No, don’t steal the coffee from the person standing next to you. Not that local. But there are local options, and if you can’t find coffee that’s grown locally in your area, odds are you can find coffee that’s roasted in your area. Buying locally means it takes less carbon in the form of gasoline to get the good stuff from the beans to your cup.

Buying Fairtrade Certified coffee is a good alternative because it ensures that the coffee you’re paying for meets sustainable farming standards, and also that the process of growing the coffee beans is fair to the workers.

Some examples of Fairtrade Certified brands are Amazon’s Happy Belly House Blend Organic Fair Trade Coffee, Cafe Altura’s Organic Instant Coffee and Seattle’s Best’s 6th Avenue Bistro Fair Trade Organic Coffee.

5. Reuse or Recycle Coffee Grounds


Depending on the kind of beans you’re using and how much of a coffee connoisseur you are, you may be able to get two uses out of your coffee grinds. If you prefer not to reuse them, you can re-purpose them to add to your fertilizer. Gardening Knowhow  recommends adding coffee grinds to fertilizer to improve drainage, water retention and aeration. If you are without a garden, Reader’s Digest recommends putting a bowl of them in the freezer overnight to remove any nasty smells. You can find some of their other practical ideas for coffee grinds here.


The time is upon us. Whether you’re brewing a cup in your room or shouting your order at a busy barista across a counter, I ask you to act deliberately and with the future in mind. My ability to function during 8 a.m. classes is at stake.


The Napkin that Knows


Danya Sherman, a sophomore student at George Washington University, studied abroad at la Universidad de Sevilla in Spain in the summer of 2016, and she lived on the international floor, surrounded by 20 male Italians, none of whom spoke English, except for one who knew just a little. She held a party to get to know the guys on her floor, but when only her one English-speaking friend came to the door, things took a turn and she woke up the next morning in a daze, and she knew of only two things that had transpired. She had been taken advantage of, and her drink was laced with a date-rape drug right in front of her eyes.

Not even a year later, Sherman stood on the stage of the Jack Morton auditorium with the prototype for a napkin that detects for date-rape drugs and a jumbo-sized check of $5,000 to make this new product a reality. Sherman’s company KnoNap was one of the 12 finalists for the ninth annual George Washington University New Venture Competition held April 20.

While KnoNap did not place in the competition, Sherman and her colleagues Colten Eberhard, senior, and Connor Varley, junior, took home the Audience Choice Award and a check at the end of the night.

First place went to Urgent Wellness, which is an emergency care center for homeless shelters that is a cheaper substitute for the emergency room. Second place went to Berg Bites, which is a healthy snacking alternative. Third place went to Agaport, which is an online platform that helps people search for storage space in international Freeports.

The finalists were only 12 of the 116 total entries, competing for a combined total of $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, such as business cards and office space, according to the programs distributed at the event. The Audience Choice Award was the only award chosen live at the event, and the 696 people who either attended or watched on Facebook Live voted using an app designed specifically for this event.

Sherman’s product stemmed from an assignment in her women’s entrepreneurial leadership class. “It’s one of those classes that changes your life,” she said.

Sherman initially pitched an idea for a stir stick that would indicate if a date-rape drug was present in a drink. After patenting and trademarking research, she realized that while others had come up with similar ideas, the products never got off the ground because they couldn’t get FDA approval because they required putting testing chemicals into the drink in question.

After nearly dropping out of the competition, Sherman decided to adapt and find a new product idea that would achieve the same goals. Her father suggested the idea for a napkin, and she was intrigued. “The more I looked into it, I was thinking ‘why hasn’t someone created this before?’”

The final product is a 3-ply napkin that looks and behaves like a normal napkin, but contains a layer of testing chemicals and polylactic acid in between two layers of tissue paper. When a sample from a drink is placed on the outer rim of the napkin, the napkin noticeably changes colors if the drink is laced, Varley said.

Sherman and her team settled on a napkin because they felt it was effective and discreet. In their presentation, they compared KnoNap to other products on the market that also test for date-rape drugs, including a nail polish that changes colors if the drugs are present and a coaster that has testing regions. They explained that the nail polish was unsanitary because after dipping their nail into the drink and realizing the drink had been laced, the victims keep the substance on their fingers, which can be dangerous if it gets near their eyes, mouth or face.

Semi-finalist judge Anna Consani thought this was an important consideration. “I just thought, oh my God, you’re right,” she said. “If something like that happened to me, I’d probably be crying and I’d definitely touch my eyes.”

Consani also mentioned the disparity in the market between products for men and women. “If it was a guy’s problem, we’d have 20 solutions by now,” she said.

KnoNap was the buzzword at the networking event that followed the final ceremony. Spectators Susan McCusker and Claire McLane were especially impressed by KnoNap. “They had a very touching story and a wonderful idea,” McCusker said.

“It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the girl,” McLane added.

Final judge Erin Horne McKinney said that Sherman had a compelling story, but she was worried about the scalability of the product. “You have to wonder ‘would [potential victims] be able to use something like this?’” McKinney said.

She mentioned that in a lot of cases, predators lace the second or third drink their victim consumes, and that potential victims may not be coherent enough after a few drinks to properly test their drinks. The KnoNap team is still developing the technology for the product, and they are refining details about how exactly the product will be used.

Annamaria Konya Tannon, Chief Evangelist for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, has judged many startup competitions in the past. She expressed similar concerns about KnoNap, and offered her own reason as to why they might not have taken home one of the top prizes. “They have to spend some time developing tech and testing it,” she said.

“KnoNap is such a needed product and such a clear idea,” Konya Tannon said. “They’re gonna make it.”

Sherman specifically hopes to implement the KnoNap in college campuses, where date-rape is more common. “The goal of it is not as much to sell napkins, but to actually create social change,” she said.

KnoNap plans to launch their product by winter of 2018. The first step of their business plan is to sell to restaurants and bars in D.C., and they also hope to target fraternities and sororities on local college campuses.

“I’m taking a very crappy situation and trying to empower myself and other women and men who have been in similar situations,” Sherman said.

In their study of 150 students at 10 universities across America, KnoNap found that 53% of students aged 18-27 either knew someone affected or were personally affected by a date-rape drug. This new survey, coupled with the national average of one in five women and one in 16 men who experience sexual assault, reassured Sherman that the issue is a prominent one.

“This isn’t an instance that happens just surrounded by complete strangers,” she said. “It’s something that can happen to anyone and by anyone.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website, nine out of 10 victims of sexual assault on college campuses knew the person who sexually assaulted them. The Department of Justice reports that about six in 10 schools in the United States offer safety-related educational programs and only 60% of those programs address sexual assault. Additionally, only about one-third of safety-related educational programs on college campuses include acquaintance rape prevention.

Sherman said that KnoNap is looking into partnering with a women’s health organization and donating a portion of proceeds towards education and a sustainable way to continue educating women and men on ways to be safer in social settings.

“My mom used to say to me ‘things happen to you for a reason, but it’s not what happens to you but how you handle the situations after,’” Sherman said, pulling back a strand of hair. “I feel like this is one of those instances where I can make myself proud.”


Fossil Free members rallying
Articles, Fossil Free GW

Fossil Free to Protest?

George Washington University student protesters were denied access to what was initially an open meeting of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 10. University police blocked the Fossil Free GW advocates from entering the Marvin Center at first, then let the students in the building on the condition that they leave their signs at the door.

Continue reading “Fossil Free to Protest?”

Articles, Planet Forward

Hope in the Wake of Sandy

“Sustainability and resilience are new words in our everyday language now,” says Angela Andersen, Long Beach Township Clean Communities Coordinator.

Long Beach Island is a quaint shore community, home to many fishermen and small business owners. The locals are outnumbered in the summer months by vacationing families who typically rent houses for a week at a time. In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the shores of New Jersey, specifically Long Beach Island. The storm tore down many of the homes on the island and left others in need of repair. According to Andersen, “some people had to leave the island after being here for generations.” This community was forced to be resilient, even though the beaches they had frequented just weeks prior were in ruins.

Continue reading “Hope in the Wake of Sandy”