Takeaway coffee? Think again.Wiebke Venter
I absolutely love coffee! It’s not only the perfect way to start the day, it also has a huge personal, cultural meaning. Coffee represents a certain lifestyle; it’s almost like there’s a status symbol attached to the coffee products we purchase. To have a takeaway coffee is not only very handy, but also kind of “cool”, isn´t it?
However, our love for coffee and other takeaway foods supports an enormous consumption of disposable cups around the world.
I am not a fan of throwing horrifying numbers around, but I recently read some interesting information about to-go coffee cups that I would like to share with you:
We are producing and throwing away billions of disposable cups per year. In the U.S. alone, 58 Billion paper cups are thrown away annually. 25 Billion foam cups, and tens of billions of single-used plastic cups are trashed at US restaurants, cafes and events.
Around 500 billion pieces of takeaway coffee cups are used globally each year. That’s enough to go around the Earth 1,360 times!
Okay, so we know that plastic and foam cups are the problem here, aren´t they? Plastic cups are one of the largest categories of plastic waste, overall, and foam cups are made of a non-biodegradable petroleum-based plastic, too.
However, although one might think it is, paper cups aren´t a good alternative at all either. Both the production and disposal of cups have their negative impacts on our environment, contributing to global warming, pollution, and much more.
The production of disposable cups relies heavily on natural resources. Over 20 million trees are cut down each year to produce single use paper cups. Most paper cups are coated with plastic and can´t be recycled. In addition, the production of cups also requires quite a bit of energy input; Turning trees into paper, and paper into usable cups requires a considerable amount of energy input – the source of which is almost exclusively fossil fuels. 53,000 homes could be powered per year by energy needed to make and dispose of paper cups. 45,5 billion litres of water are used to make a year’s worth of paper cups.
The disposable paper coffee cups, at first glance, can be seen as great candidates for recycling, but this is a common misconception. These coffee cups are not entirely made from biodegradable paper. The majority of them have a thin plastic lining to keep liquids from saturating the paper part of the cup. This plastic lining is difficult to separate and most recycling facilities are not equipped to do this type of recycling. As a result, only less than 1% of the 500 billion takeaway coffee cups are actually being recycled. Nearly 100% of the takeaway coffee cups worldwide, unfortunately, end up in our landfills after a single use.
Plastic cups can be recycled, but it depends on the type of plastic used. It is not safe to assume that all disposable cups can be easily recycled.
Styrofoam cups can be recycled by some facilities but only a tiny fraction is reclaimed. Most go to the landfill or incinerator. When in the natural environment, Styrofoam will break down into smaller and smaller pieces but will persist in natural environments for over 500 years.
There are also rising concerns regarding the health implications of using disposable cups, especially for hot liquids. Plastics and other ingredients used in cups may be ingested along with your drink, making it possible for micro plastics to travel up through the food chain and into your diet. Also, when non-recyclable coffee cups are placed in recycle bins with other recyclable items, they can contaminate the real recyclables, then the entire batch will have to be eliminated during the recycling process.
What can you do about it?
The biggest impact you can have is to change your personal habits, so you reduce our reliance on disposable cups. Vote with your wallet to show support for a more sustainable future.
Reduce your dependence on single use cups by bringing your own reusable alternative.
- Know what a meaningful alternative to disposable cups really is. Not all recyclable and biodegradable claims are authentic.
- Educate others about the issue.
Using a reusable coffee cup for a year can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37-47%, save freshwater waste by 68-85%, and reduces wasted cups ending up in our landfills by about 91-92%. Isn’t that amazing?