Disposable cups are made from plastic lined paper, polystyrene or plastic.

To make paper cups water proof they are laminated with polyethylene, a plastic resin.

Sustainability is Sexy claim that paper cups are made from virgin wood because there are major problems making paper coffee cups  from recycled paper. Regulations are strict about what materials you can use to package food and drink and  recycled paper isn’t strong enough.

We use a lot of disposable cups.

Here are some figures. As you can see, cup waste is huge!


The 2.5 billion synthetic cups thrown away in Britain every year are made from a mixture of materials which prevents them from being recycled alongside paper and cardboard. Daily Mail

A report conducted jointly by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation and Starbucks found that 1.9 billion cups were used by Starbucks in 2000.[5] In 2006, Starbucks reported that this figure had grown to 2.3 billion cups for use at their stores.[6]

And just recently the Guardian reported that “A conservative estimate puts the number of paper cups handed out by coffee shops in the UK at 3bn, more than 8m a day. Yet, supposedly, fewer than one in 400 is being recycled.”

According to the paper industry, Americans will consume an estimated 23 billion paper coffee cups in 2010. Rob Martin, the Vice President of Merchandising and Production for Tully’s Coffee, estimated the 2006 use usage at 16 billion paper cups.[4]

Some Solutions

Polystyrene & Plastic

Why anyone would want to drink out of a polystyrene cup is beyond me. The drinks taste horrid which many be due to the nasty chemicals that go into polystyrene. Plastic cups too are awful. Flimsy and tacky.

Polystyrene is difficult to recycle. Difficult but not impossible …

For those of you who insist on using plastic cups there is  the  save a cup recycling system

Save a Cup was established by the vending, foodservice and plastics industries as a not for profit company. It was set up to collect and recycle used polystyrene (plastic) vending cups. Today the service has been extended and now includes cans, pods, plastic and paper cups.

Paper/plastic Cups

Because these cups are made from paper and plastic they are difficult to recycle. The parts have to separated. Though this can be done it is a complex  procedure which adds to the cost of the recycled product.

Leading many recyclers to say that they don’t recycle paper cups. Though some do. It’s a murkey scenario at best.

Compostable Cups

There are compostable products  on the market. they are made from clear certified-compostable, cornstarch plastic (PLA)  or paper cups lined with the same. Vegware for example do a full range.  But  there would need to be far more, large scale municipal composting schemes for this to be a properly effective answer for the above amounts of waste. You can check out a rather sweet cup to compost scheme here.

Take Your Own Cup

Of course none of the above address the issue of creating massive and unsustainable amounts of trash by using disposables. Don’t be part of the problem – take your own reusable cup and use that instead. You can find a great range of cups here.


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