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disposable coffee cup pollution

disposable coffee cup

Coffee culture in the U.S. has expanded exponentially in the past decade. However, our love of white chocolate mochas has’t slowed us down in this fast paced society. Rather than taking the time to enjoy a cup of joe at local coffee shops, we take our coffee to go. And in this way, we’ve created another method of polluting our planet: disposable coffee cups.

This problem was brought to my attention last weekend while visiting Georgia. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the Athens, Georgia based coffee shop where my sister works. She mentioned that her company, along with most other coffee companies, can’t recycle their disposable coffee cups. This hadn’t really occurred to me before; I guess I assumed paper cups are always recycled. However, most to go coffee cups of today have a thin polyethylene lining to retain hot liquids. Since these cups are a combination of plastic and paper, they are sent to the landfill. She clarified that they do recycle the paper sleeves for hot liquids.

This started me thinking about the billions of disposable coffee cups Americans are throwing into the garbage can each year. Why has no one found a solution to remedy this pollution atrocity? Let’s break it down into the Good, Bad, & Ugly for better understanding.

Ugly

For the longest time, our on the go coffee cup of choice was polystyrene, or as we better know it, Styrofoam. Unfortunately, Styrofoam is still used today. However, Americans are starting to see the ugliness of its use, and many communities are banning Styrofoam altogether. What we know about Styrofoam is that it basically never decomposes. So when we throw our Styrofoam coffee cups into the trash, they virtually collect in landfills forever. Not to mention, studies have found that polystyrene products are full of nasty toxic chemicals, that are especially harmful when heated.

Bad

Nowadays, we mostly use those standard paper coffee coffee with plastic lining. This is definitely a better option than Styrofoam, but it’s still not great. The fact that these coffee cups aren’t recyclable is just one of the issues with this product. It’s true that several companies have tried to create a more sustainable option. But it’s certainly difficult to create a product that can withstand hot temperatures without leaking. Some companies have tried to use recycled paper for their disposable coffee cups but found it really wasn’t strong enough to hold coffee. So not only are our paper coffee cups not recycled after their use, but furthermore we have to cut down trees to make new, strong paper for these cups. Some companies use a percentage of recycled paper in their cups, but it would be ideal for our standard to be 100% recyclable coffee cups.

Good

So what’s the solution until we have a 100% recyclable coffee to go container? One sustainable option is of course to bring your own ceramic travel mug for your coffee cravings. No more throwing away coffee cups! But really the best, most sustainable, remedy is to sit down at your local coffee shop and enjoy your coffee there in a ceramic mug. Let’s embrace the Italian coffee culture and take a minute to sit down and really enjoy and experience our coffee. Taking a few minutes to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cup of joe is also a great way to positively affect our planet 🙂

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2 thoughts on “disposable coffee cup pollution

  1. I like the option “sit down and enjoy right there”. Unfortunately some places don’t even offer glass / ceramic beverage containers for their seated customers. I just encountered this in a local juice store. Only plastic cups available.

    I am using a stainless steel travel mug from contigo which I really like. It has a clip on the handle which allows to attach the mug onto my bag or belt.

    Wrote about this mug a while ago: http://gruenish.com/2014/08/09/my-dear-paper-cup/

    1. I hate that! A similar situation happened to me today at a local Mexican restaurant. They serve their meals on Styrofoam disposable plates for dine-in customers. I was appalled, what a waste!

      Love your post on acquiring a new travel mug! 🙂 I’ve been on the hunt for a stainless steel water bottle that’s also plastic free and it’s been a real struggle. Most containers are stainless steel but still have a plastic lid. Let me know if you have any recommendations!

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