In the USA alone, it’s estimated that 50 billion takeaway coffees are bought every year.
That’s a lot of coffee. It’s also a lot of cups.
Most of us like to think we’re doing the right thing with the empty cup, and throw it in the bin marked “recycling.” According to the big coffee chains, these cups are recyclable, so it’s okay, right? After all, most are labelled with the recognisable Mobius-loop symbol (three arrows in a triangle) indicating recyclability.
Actually, the reality is that these coffee cups are not as recyclable as we might think they are. Most coffee cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic tightly attached to the cup. This keeps the drink warm and prevents the cardboard from becoming soggy. But it also makes the cup non-recyclable.
The card is fused with polyethylene, a material that cannot be separated out in a standard recycling mill. This means it can’t be recycled with paper or cardboard. In fact, there are estimates that fewer than one in 400 cups get sent for recycling, and the rest end up in landfill sites for decades, taking about 20 years for a cup to decompose.
Truly recyclable cups are being made, but this option comes at a price and not all cafe owners are willing to wear that cost. The real key to change is education. If we can educate others to understand the implications of the waste involved with disposable food and drink, then we can really make a difference.
However in the meantime, there are other efforts that can be made too. We need to change our consumption habits and carry a reusable coffee cup. Some cafes sell their own branded or neutral reusable cups; others give a discount if you bring your own. With the 50 billion cups consumed nationwide every year, the simple act of using a reusable mug would lead to a great reduction in waste and energy consumption.
Not only that, they’re convenient too! There are many reusable mug options these days that will not only keep your coffee nice and hot but spill-proof too!
So next time you go for a coffee, think before you drink.
Switch a disposable for a reusable.