Are Eco-friendly coffee cups really better for the environment?
As with any reusable product a reusable coffee cup has a higher carbon footprint than a disposable cup. They take more energy and more resources to make and so in order for them to be better for the planet you have to actually use them, anywhere from 20-100 times.
If you generally make and drink your tea and coffee at home or in the office you probably already have a mug, and if you don’t every charity shop in the land has a plentiful and seemingly endless supply, therefore you a reusable takeaway cup may not be worth it. If you only buy a takeaway coffee twice a year when you drive to visit your inlaws then it’ll take a good few years to make it a better option than a takeaway cup.
However, if you do buy coffee out on a more regular basis a reusable coffee cup will quickly be a more environmentally friendly, and pocket-friendly option.
The problem with disposable cups
Despite the fact that polystyrene cups are becoming less and less common paper coffee cups still have a significant negative impact. Because they have a thin plastic (or bio-plastic) film to keep them waterproof they cannot be recycled as paper meaning they either end up being incinerated or going to landfill.
In fact, research has shown that just 0.25% of coffee cups in the UK are recycled. The technology does exist to recycle these cups but the systems for collecting the cups and getting them to the recycling plants are not in place.
And while you may think that eco-friendly compostable cups are a better option they need to be sent to industrial composting facilities which means they need to be kept separate from both recycling and landfill. And the sad fact is that most people who couldn’t be bothered to bring a reusable cup with them won’t be bothered to take their disposable cup home and put it in with their food waste.
Other factors to consider when choosing to reuse
It’s interesting to note (in a geeky kind of a way) that it’s not just the initial impact of making the disposable or reusable cup that has to be considered when weighing up the pro’s and cons of reusables.
Every time you use your reusable cup you also have to wash it, just like any other mug, plate, spoon etc, and this uses hot water and soap both of which have their own environmental impacts.
That means that worst-case scenario you may have to use your reusable cup 1000 times to make it a better option. However simple actions like using an eco-friendly soap or choosing a cup that can go in the dishwasher when you are already putting on a load can dramatically reduce that number.
And don’t forget that stainless steel, glass, silicone, plastic or ceramic reusable cups are all designed to be used 1000’s of times.
Next up: Reusable takeaway coffee cups