Drinking coffee is most definitely one of my favourite daily activities and living in Melbourne means there is no shortage of excellent cafes to treat myself to a takeaway coffee from. Unfortunately if you’re not careful all this coffee drinking can result in some not so pleasant side-effects for the planet, so today I wanted to talk about the problem with takeaway coffee cups and what to use instead!
The issue in numbers
Australians use over a billion takeaway cups every single year, which is an incredibly large number, creating tonnes of waste. Each cup is only used for a relatively short amount of time as well, making it a truly disposable, single use item.
So, what’s the problem with takeaway coffee cups?
Some takeaway coffee cups are made of just paper, making them theoretically recyclable, whilst others are made from a plastic-lined paper, meaning they need to go straight into the bin and therefore landfill. Unfortunately it can be difficult to know which ones are recyclable, meaning many cups that could have been recycled end up in the bin, and even worse non-recyclable cups can end up contaminating a whole bin full of recycling.
To create the billion cups we use each year takes a whole lot of resources, including wood, water and energy, which could have been put to much better use. Unfortunately recycled paper is generally not used to make coffee cups due to food safety standards and it not being durable enough, meaning that virgin wood is required for the manufacturing process. As a result takeaway coffee cups not only create an incredible amount of waste, but they also take far more resources to make than we really have to spare.
What are the alternatives?
If you can’t sit down and drink your coffee in the cafe, then a reusable coffee cup is the next best thing. This could be as simple as just taking a standard mug with you (which is particularly easy to do from work), or instead a purpose designed reusable cup.
There are a whole host of options out there these days, made from plastic, glass, stainless steel and ceramic. If you do go with a plastic option make sure that it is BPA free, to ensure that it has been tested for toxins, and that it will be able to be recycled at the end of its life. Each brand will have different features such as the design of the lid, mouthpiece, colours available and now even some have built in devices to make paying for your coffee easier.
It really comes down to a personal preference – I have an original plastic Keep Cup that I have had for many years now, and also a glass version which I bought a year or so back. I prefer the glass version, but the plastic one is a-ok as well (and my plastic one is larger, so that is always a plus!).
Are the alternatives more eco friendly?
It generally takes more resources to create one reusable cup than it does one takeaway coffee cup, however as they are designed to be used time and time again this evens out eventually. Each brand and type of cup will have a number of uses whereby it breaks even with regards to the embodied energy in its production, for example for the plastic Keep Cups it is 15 uses. This means that once you have used it 16 or more times you are ahead with regards to its environmental impact, and given they are designed to be used hundreds of times you can see how easy it is to end up well ahead!
Where can I find one?
Thankfully nowadays with reusable cups becoming more common you can usually find one to purchase in local cafes or homeware stores, although you might be limited with your choices of brands and colours. If you have a particular brand in mind you can often buy directly from their website, otherwise somewhere like Biome^ stock a range of options (which is where I bought my glass Keep Cup) so you can choose the size, colour combination and brand that you like best!