Paper Coffee Cups

Paper coffee cups don’t get a lot of thought really. We take these cups for granted each time we use one and then throw them away without much further thought either. I’d like to take a moment to talk about the lowly paper coffee cup and how we might better use it as a consumer, producer and business owner. As you might know from reading my previous post on disposable coffee cups, I try to come to coffee via my love for the environment. As such I consume fair trade organic canopy grown coffee a lot the time and I try to base my purchasing decisions on leaving the smallest environmental footprint.

I believe most of us coffee lovers out there feel the same way. Coffee is such an organic and by that I mean natural product that is not very far removed from the actual plant that produces it. Granted, the coffee bean is further removed from nature than the apple, but not further removed than the almond you might be snacking on. A little bit of washing to get rid of the coffee cherry and a little bit of roasting of the coffee bean and it’s yours. Ready to use.

My thoughts on paper coffee cups

So I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say about paper cups for coffee and I hope that I might encourage you to use them more wisely and diligently as you go about your day enjoying our favorite beverage.

But first, just a very brief history of the paper cup. Paper coffee cups were actually invented by a lawyer who wanted to sell ice cooled water vending machines but was concerned about public sanitation as before the paper cup, public glasses were used and shared at water fountains and such. So this first paper cup which would become known as the Dixie paper cup was developed in 1908. Since then, we’ve gone down hill environmentally.

And this is what I mean. In 2006, 6.5 million trees were cut down just to be used as 16 billion paper cups (not solely paper coffee cups, bus still). This required the use of 4 billion gallons (15 billion liters) of water and created 253 million pounds (114 million kilograms or 115,000 metric tons) of waste.

Processes used to make paper coffee cups

Now even though these printed paper coffee cups use PE (polyethylene) to make them waterproof, they can be recycled but they aren’t been recycled in quantities large enough. And this is where our concern should be. Because although they could biodegrade easily, when laid to rest in landfills this degradation is hamstrung and/or they may compose anaerobically releasing methane which is an environmental pollutant.

So my plea is this. Sometimes it is unavoidable to use paper coffee cups and in such cases I generally take my coffee cup home with me and recycle it properly. However many coffee shops especially the local ones are offering recycling containers for their paper coffee cups so that is a step in the right direction.

The best thing to do however and hopefully in time, this will become common, is to use your own stainless steel traveler coffee cup. Sadly, not enough coffee shops are giving good enough discounts for bringing in your own mug. One of the big brands only gives a piddly dime off your beverage for bringing your own cup, and it should be at least a quarter or more off the cost of a beverage. Hopefully the time will come when we are charged for the true costs incurred in our fast food mass consumptive lifestyle. I’d hazard a guess, that these disposable coffee cups might have a true cost of a dollar or more.

So that’s my plea when it comes to paper cups for coffee. Follow the Rs of environmentalism. Reduce your use of paper coffee cups. Reuse your own stainless steel coffee cup or mug and Recycle any paper coffee cups you do happen to use.