Are Takeaway Coffee Cups a Serious Threat to the Environment?

take away cups
May 19, 2017 Recycling

Our daily coffee ritual – The unexpected threat to the environment

For most of us, the morning does not begin until we have had a good cup of coffee. Whether you are a fan of a particular brand or need your fix from whichever coffee house is closest on your route to the office, chances are that you are grabbing your daily fix in a takeaway cup.

Has it ever crossed your mind that your morning cup is harmful to the environment? Takeaway coffee cups take a lot of resources to manufacture and are also complicated to recycle.

You cannot simply add your takeaway coffee cups to your general paper recycling load since the cups are lined with a special waterproof lining. Adding takeaway coffee cups to your paper recycling can actually contaminate the paper, causing the whole lot to end up in a landfill.

Our daily coffee ritual – an unexpected threat to the environment

Total consumption of coffee cups

Approximately 3 billion cups of coffee are sold in Australia every year. The USA is home to about 100 million daily coffee drinkers, who consume approximately 3.1 cups of coffee a day. Europeans are also fond of the brew, drinking around 725 million cups per day.

Each year, the EU consumes 2.5 million tonnes of coffee! While there is no doubt that the hot brew is popular the world over, this popularity is influencing the environment.

A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum said that by the year 2050 the oceans will be home to more plastic than fish. This alarming statistic should get you recycling your coffee cups in no time!

What happens to my used takeaway coffee cups?

If you are not already recycling your used coffee cups, they are more than likely ending up in landfills with the rest of your trash. If not in landfills, coffee cups are littering parks, streets, water systems, and beaches throughout the world.

Approximately 500 billion coffee cups are manufactured every year around the globe. If you placed them end to end, they would reach around the globe 1,360 times! Landfills receive around 60,000 kilogrammes of plastic coffee cup waste per year in Australia.

Coffee cups that end up in marine ecosystems can be fatal to the marine life, as the plastic and polystyrene materials break down and pollute the water, marine life ingest these materials often with fatal outcomes.

Can I recycle my used takeaway coffee cups?

The type of cup you get, paper-based or polystyrene, will determine how you recycle it. Polystyrene cups are a problem when it comes to recycling as there are not very many recycling services available. In fact, more than 70 US cities have placed a ban on using polystyrene given its ease of polluting the environment.

Polystyrene breaks apart very easily, whether being recycled or in a landfill, negatively impacting the environment. It is unknown how long takes for polystyrene to decompose and since recycling plants are few and far between, these cups are bound for the landfill.

Paper-based coffee cups have a slightly better potential for recycling. However, because of the polyethene lining that ensures your cup is waterproof, they cannot be recycled as the normal paper would. The market has introduced a variety of options with the intention of becoming more ‘green’, with wax-coated cups and so-called biodegradable cups.

As great as that sounds, biodegradable cups require specific composting conditions, not widely available, in order to properly decompose the cup. Another hurdle to get over is that most takeaway cups are not clearly marked with recycling information, making it difficult for the user and recycling teams to identify how to best dispose of the cup.

How can I save the environment and have my morning coffee?

The effect on the environment goes further beyond additional waste and pollution but also uses a lot of resources in the form of paper, water and energy. All the more reason to buy your disposable coffee cups sparingly. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s 2016 report found that for plastic packaging, a massive 95% of the invested value is lost after use.

So, now you are asking how you can make less of an impact with your caffeine dependency?

You could cut back – but that is not an ideal solution. Here are four ways you can help protect the environment from takeaway coffee cups:

  • Reduce

Reduce your consumption of takeaway coffees. We are not saying you should skip your morning wake up cup, but rather skip the takeaway and take a seat. Drink your coffee in the café from a ceramic mug.

Washing up your cup will use fewer resources than the manufacturing process of the takeaway cup. If you’re running late and desperately need your takeaway, skip the lid and it won’t spend years polluting a landfill.


  • Reuse

A great way to reduce your use of takeaway coffee cups is to invest in a reusable cup. Most cafés will gladly make your favourite coffee drink in your own cup for you (and often give you a discount for bringing it in) and it is great for the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and landfills.


  • Don’t mind the status symbol

As you may well know, the type of coffee you drink says a lot about you, and walking down the street with the right logo on your cup stops a lot of people from investing in a reusable cup.

If you can part with social norms and ditch the logo on your plastic cup, you can still enjoy your favourite coffee, the coffee you claim to be the best in town while looking out for your precious environment.


  • Recycle where you can

Since it has been made clear the recycling of coffee cups can be a difficult exercise, many cities are setting up schemes to help recycle these materials. In many parts of Australia, coffee cup deposit bins will become a way for residents to recycle their takeaway coffee cups by the end of 2017.

Find out from your local council if there are any recycling programmes for takeaway coffee cups in your area. If your coffee cup comes with a cardboard collar, be sure to add this to your paper recycling as many of these sleeves are made only from paper products and don’t use any plastic.

Take a moment to think about how your morning cuppa can seriously damage our environment and find a way to protect it without sacrificing your morning ‘get-up-and-go’. Start by reducing your consumption, get a reusable cup, forget the coffee up lids and recycle wherever you can.

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