"I'm not allowed to do that" is a phrase that I seem to be hearing all too often these days. You might hear it in a range of frustrating customer service situations - a childlike way of fobbing people off and avoiding responsibility. Today I heard it at a Waitrose coffee bar, in response to me asking if I could have my free drink in a reusable KeepCup.
You're probably wondering why I'd bother with such a request, but having recently been involved with a high-profile campaign on waste, I know that 5,000 disposable coffee cups get chucked into UK landfill every minute. That's 7 million a day. Or 2.5 BILLION a year.
I think that kind of waste is unnecessary and totally ridiculous so I like to do my bit and I always use my KeepCup when getting a takeaway coffee. Or at least, I try to. This is the second time that Waitrose have refused to take my cup, citing 'health and safety reasons' as the problem. "We couldn't guarantee your safety if we used your cup" the assistant tells me, with not even a roll of the eyes to imply she's really on my side. Of course, there are no health and safety issues if I'm willing to purchase a Waitrose own-brand reusable cup, which they are happy to accept. None of this makes any sense to me but this girl is following the rules to the letter and she cannot be reasoned with.
By this point, I'm pretty angry and I consider asking for the manager. I threaten to tweet Waitrose head office. I nearly even announce that I'll take my custom elsewhere (before I realise that this is, after all, a free cup of coffee).
Some of the other shoppers start to take an interest and, much to my husband's horror, I'm successfully causing a bit of a scene. Over a disposable coffee cup. But I can't believe this lack of common sense or the assistant's willingness to blindly follow an illogical directive. At best, this is health and safety gone mad. At worst, it's a money making ploy by Waitrose to get you to buy one of their own brand reusable cups.
As I stand my ground, I realise that it's not just the landfill waste that I'm challenging here. It's also the 'computer says no' mentality. When did we become such a nation of rule-loving jobsworths? I've always been the kind of person who will challenge such behaviour. In fact, I'm the first to point out injustices and wrong-doing. And yes, it definitely gets me into trouble sometimes, but on the whole, when I speak up for what I judge to be right, good things happen. Or at the very least, common sense prevails.
To their credit, Waitrose did apologise to me (via twitter, yes, I did make good on my threat) and promised that next time I visit my local store, KeepCup in hand, I won't be turned away. I like to think it was a (very) small win for independent thought as well as the environment.
And to the assistant who so diligently followed the rules I say sorry for being such a pedant, but blindly following the rules isn't always the right choice. In fact, the fate of our planet may well depend on our capacity to use our initiative, think for ourselves and challenge the people around us.