The convenience of a takeaway beverage is something that we have all appreciated at some time or another. A cup of coffee on the go can make that morning rush hour bearable or give your system a much-needed caffeine boost at lunchtime.
Unfortunately, this convenience, more often than not, comes at a cost. A report by the Recycling List Ireland organisation found that each year 200 million disposable coffee cups are thrown away in Ireland. This means that every minute 366 coffee cups are simply discarded. Most of these will end up in landfill sites and become part of the single-use plastic problem.
In today’s world, where we are more aware than ever before of the environmental impact of our actions, this usage is unsustainable. This fact has been acknowledged by the Irish government, which is considering a “Latte Levy” on non-compostable coffee cups.
While many cups are manufactured using paper, by necessity they need to have a coating that maintains the cup’s structure and helps to retain heat.
In most instances, this coating is plastic. For many years manufacturers the only option was to use harmful polyethylene (PE) plastic to coat their cups, and while this is recyclable, it isn’t easy to do so and requires a specialist facility. This is why many of the large coffee chains that still use these type cups run their own bring-back and recycle schemes.
Of course, the reality is not many of us do this because carrying around an empty cup until you happen upon a shop with a recycling scheme just isn’t practical. The upshot is that the plastic-coated coffee cup that you enjoyed your beverage from is destined to end up as just another landfill statistic.
Even if it does make it to a recycling plant many are discarded because they are contaminated by the drink they contained.
The problem with polylactic acid (PLA) coated cups
PLA-coated cups are frequently touted as an “environmentally friendly” alternative to PE-coated cups. At first glance, it might seem that this is the case, but all isn’t as it seems.
PLA is a plant-based plastic that manufacturers claim is biodegradable and compostable. However, the crucial word here is -PLASTIC-
PLA is still plastic with all the inherent problems associated with the material. For PLA to be composted, it must be industrially done in a specialised composting facility. Place this in your home compost bin, and it will remain intact for many years to come. To successfully compost PLA coated cups, they must be subjected to industrial heat of 60° C or above. Across Ireland, facilities that can expose a PLA cup to the heat and moisture required to activate the biodegradation process are very limited.
In plain terms, what this means is that PLA-coated cups are just as big a problem as regular PE cups. Inevitably, and often without the well-meaning consumers’ awareness, PLA-cups are adding to the single-use plastic problem.
Aqueous Coating – A true environment-friendly solution
There is a solution that is manufactured here in Ireland that offers a true environment-friendly option. Our compostable cups are manufactured using an aqueous coating that means your disposable coffee cup can be treated just like any paper or card product.
As the name suggests, the aqueous coating used is water-based and breaks down harmlessly without any specialist treatments required. These cups are far more likely to end up being recycled as they don’t need any special facilities or treatments to recycle them. Just put them in any paper or cardboard recycling bin, and they go through the exact same processes as any other recyclable card or paper. They’re also able to be both industrially composted and home composted, unlike PLA.
In the worst-case scenario of some of these cups being carelessly discarded, ending up as litter in a field or the sea, they break down at the same rate as a newspaper does.
As we strive towards living sustainably on a planet with finite resources, every action we can take to help the situation is critical.
Switching to aqueous coated cups can make a massive impact on the amount of waste that ends up clogging our landfills, landscapes, and oceans.