Coffee cup culture Shift

(Photo courtesy of University of MN)

In recent years the popularity of the coffee shop has skyrocketed and the industry is booming. According to the official website, Starbucks beverages account for approximately four billion cups globally each year. Many people think that most disposable paper cups are recyclable, but this is not the case.

The majority of disposable coffee cups used by large corporations and small businesses alike are made of paper and lined with a thin, film plastic called polyethylene that waterproofs the cup. Separating this polyethylene from the paper is a complex process most municipal recycling facilities can’t do. Studies estimate that less than one in 400 coffee cups gets recycled.

In the United States roughly 54 percent of the population drinks an average of three cups of coffee every day. Though there are people who brew at home or use a reusable cup, this still is a staggering amount of unnecessary waste. So how can we make a difference?

The easiest step to take is to invest in a reusable cup! Bringing your own cup to your favorite java shop eliminates the need for a disposable one, plus it keeps your beverage warmer for longer and is less likely to spill. There are many coffee shops, including Starbucks that offer a small discount to customers who provide their own cup.

Okay, so we probably won’t be able to convince everyone to use a reusable mug, what else can we do? There are alternative materials available that can drastically decrease the environmental impact of a disposable cup. Encourage your local businesses to buy compostable, pressed paper cups that are waterproofed using PLA, not polyethylene.

Polylactic Acid or PLA is bio plastic that is derived from organic materials like cornstarch, tapioca roots, and sugarcane that keeps liquid from leaking and is completely compostable. Just because these products are made from plants doesn’t mean they are low quality or will melt in hot temperatures; there is a special type of PLA, CPLA that is made specifically to withstand higher temperatures.

We have all of the tools to reduce waste, let’s work together with businesses and consumers to educate people about recycling and the waste they generate and move away from a disposable consumer culture.



—Information courtesy of the University of Minnesota