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The Impact of Disposable Coffee Cups

Working at an eco-minded company like Bruvi®, we are all mindful about how our own actions impact the planet, especially as it relates to coffee. Aside from the environmental footprint of coffee itself, we must also consider what it is served in.

I’ll be the first to admit, I have been a heavy user of paper and plastic coffee cups in the past, but I am trying hard to limit my use. This is all stemming from a deeper understanding of the sheer scale of this problem and why recycling isn’t the viable option I once thought it was. Grab your favorite coffee cup now because you will be bringing it along for your next coffee run after reading this!

How Many Disposable Coffee Cups Are Actually Getting Recycled?

Disposable coffee cups in the trash

The 2017 UK Environmental Audit Report found that only one in four hundred paper coffee cups were being recycled (1). While this is specific to the UK, I don’t expect the figures in the US are much better. To quantify the scale of this problem, the total consumption of paper coffee cups in the UK alone comes in at roughly 2.5 billion each year and is expected to grow to 3.75 billion by 2025. While many coffee companies are trying to promote the use of multi-use coffee cups, the simple truth is that almost all these cups are used once, and a tiny sliver of a percent will ultimately get recycled and repurposed.

The Environmental Cost of Coffee Cups

To dive even deeper into the environmental issues at hand, we must understand what goes into making these disposable coffee cups. A study by the company Intertek found that a single cup requires almost 20 ounces of water and leaves behind a footprint of as much as 60+ grams of carbon dioxide (2). When we think about these factors and their respective implications on our world, the problems with these products grow exponentially. At Bruvi HQ in Los Angeles, CA, droughts are a very real and serious environmental issue. So to think that we are literally throwing so much water down the drain with each paper coffee cup really hits home for me.

Why is it Hard to Recycle Coffee Cups?

Person holding disposable coffee cup

Despite the recycle symbol on the side of your paper coffee cup, you really shouldn’t feel warm and fuzzy about discarding them in the recycle bin. In theory, these cups can be recycled but just not in the conventional facilities that almost all of them will end up in. The issue is that most of these cups are paper (recyclable) with laminated plastic coating inside (non-recyclable). In order to get properly recycled, the plastic coating needs to be completely removed, which is no simple task. Not only does it require a specialized recycling facility that would have the ability to separate the components, but it also needs to be economically viable. If the cost to remove the plastic becomes higher than the value of the recyclable components, it will all simply just end up in the landfill.

Long story short, bring your reusable cups and ditch the single-use paper and plastic. Mother Nature thanks you!

 

Sources:
1. Coffee Cup Waste in the UK. Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups - Environmental Audit Committee - House of Commons. (n.d.). https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/657/65705.htm#_idTextAnchor008.
2. Guardian News and Media. (2020, April 26). Why Britain's 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are an eco disaster. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/26/why-britains-25-billion-paper-coffee-cups-are-an-eco-disaster.

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