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Disposable Plastic Coffee Cups: How Big A Problem Are They?

Disposable Plastic Coffee Cups: How Big A Problem Are They?

Most of us need a strong caffeine fix to kick start the day. Grabbing a cup of takeaway coffee from your favourite coffee chain on your way to work, kills unwanted stress and boosts your energy, but have you ever wondered what happens to these disposable plastic coffee cups once you throw them in the bin? How they affect the planet’s health?

More than 99% of these coffee cups are non-recyclable, landing straight to the incineration grounds, eventually releasing tons of harmful gases and chemicals in the process.

Although takeaway coffee has become a staple for people all over the world, awareness has been raised only in the recent years regarding how to deal with the massive amounts of plastic waste produced as a result of using these disposable coffee cups.

For example, in a country like UK alone, more than 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every day, which amounts to 2.5 billion a year.

That said, the worrying implications of using disposable plastic coffee cups go way beyond their numbers.

Misconceptions on recycling:

One of the main causes leading to a lack of awareness and disconnect among people is the whole process of recycling plastic cups versus their consumption.

Looking at a disposable coffee cup, you may be under the impression that it is certainly recyclable, as claimed by a lot of takeaway coffee brands.

But this misconception will quickly get a reality check when you ask, what are disposable coffee cups made of? 

The answer is – NOT entirely biodegradable paper, which can be easily recycled. These cups have a layer of polyethylene, which is tightly attached to the cup to make it waterproof and prevent the cup from mixing with its contents.

This plastic lining and paper-plastic combination make it a rather difficult and complicated to recycle them, which is why it is avoided by most recycling plants and hybrids.

Add to the fact the contamination of the cups with the presence of drinks inside them; you have less than 1 percent of over 30 billion coffee cups actually recycled.

Disposable Coffee Cups Environmental Impact:

The polyesters in these disposable cups disintegrate into finer components over time, leading to ‘microplastic pollution.’

These dangerously tiny microplastics are toxic to the environment and seep into the oceans and water bodies, where they are unknowingly consumed by aquatic creatures.

The microplastics and other chemicals remain suspended in the air we breathe and can have a harmful impact on the human system.

Moreover, manufacturing these cups takes a huge toll on our natural resources, with over 20 million trees cut down each year and tones of energy wasted to produce single-use coffee cups, emitting poisonous gases like CO2 in the process.

In order to combat this environmental and health issue of plastic waste production, we must be conscious of the problem and raise the necessary awareness.

A few reforming steps include:

  • Resorting to reusable coffee cups or bringing your own cups and flasks to the coffee shop;
  • The use of Compostable Cups – Compostable catering disposables like coffee cups offer equal quality and functionality to standard cups but are made from renewable resources like corn-starch. Their wax lining is also made from plant-based oils, making them 100% compostable and biodegradable;
  • Educating others about this issue by word-of-mouth or taking part in campaigns and awareness programs;
  • Strong governmental policies regarding plastic waste production.

Only by following the necessary steps and precautions and getting proper help and support from the government will we be able to tackle this growing concern in the coming years for the safety of the planet and our future generations.


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