The Basic Problem with Coffee Cups

5 Mar

What do most coffee drinkers think about when drinking a cup of coffee? For the organizers of Sustainability is Sexy, it’s the environmental impact of their coffee cup. These are a few of the environmental problems with using disposable paper coffee cups:

  • During the manufacturing process, cups are laminated with a plastic resin called polyethylene. This helps keep beverages warm and prevents the paper from absorbing liquids and leaking. The plastic also prevents the cup from being recycled. Every paper cup that is manufactured and coated with plastic resin ends up in a landfill. Once in a landfill, the paper will begin to decompose. This process releases methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.
  • Typical paper coffee cups aren’t made from recycled paper. Instead, most cups are manufactured using 100% bleached virgin paperboard. Why don’t manufacturers use recycled paper? Firstly, FDA regulations are strict when it comes to allowing recycled paper pulp to be in direct contact with food and beverages. Secondly, recycled paper isn’t strong enough to hold a liquid. In the late 1990’s, Starbucks experimented with a variety of coffee cups made with recycled paper. Unfortunately, the cups were too often flimsy and leaked their contents.[1] As of 2007, Starbucks has begun to use cups made from 10% post-consumer materials, while the remaining 90% of the cup is composed of new paper.
  • The process involved with manufacturing paper cups is extremely resource intensive. Manufacturing paper requires harvesting trees and using machines to turn the wood into wood chips. The chips are heavily washed to remove any dirt, and then mixed with more water and processed. The resulting paper pulp is dried and the fibers are pressed together to make paper. The entire process requires a substantial amount of water, energy… and a lot of trees.

biodegradable cups, biodegradable plates, biodegradable clamshells, biodegradable take-out containers

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