Waste from disposable coffee cups are an issue. We all know this; it isn’t news. But perhaps what is most perplexing about this problem is that many of these cups are actually recyclable. A new article from BBC News breaks down how the problem isn’t necessarily the cup itself, but how it is disposed of.
The article notes that a staggering 99.75% of the estimated 2.5 billion (in 2011. That number is believed to be higher now) disposable cups in the UK end up in a landfill. But many of the biggest producers of these cups—including Starbucks and Costa—have cups that actually are recyclable. So what’s the problem then? The snag comes in where these cups are thrown away.
Because disposable cups are a mix of paper and plastic, it takes a specialized facility to properly dispose of them. So if you throw away a cup in recycling at Starbucks or Costa (which doesn’t really make sense; take away cups are for taking your coffee away from the coffee shop), they will be taken to the appropriate recycling plant. But, if you throw your cup away in a bin at home or on the street or just about any place that isn’t where the coffee was purchased, it will most likely end up in a landfill.
To combat this, many companies are creating compostable cups, but this comes with its own set of challenges. If, for instance, a compostable cup ends up in the recycling, it could contaminate, rendering the entire batch of recycling useless and destining it to a landfill.
So what can we as consumers do? The easiest solution is to bring your own reusable cups, like this lovely Sprudge KeepCup. The article notes that many coffee shops even offer discounts for those bringing in their own cups, so not only are they better for the environment, they will eventually pay for themselves. Short of that, we can all be more mindful about making sure our waste is appropriately disposed of; put recyclables in the recycling bin and waste in the waste bin. Mixing the two can undo the work of other mindful disposers.