Its Coffee week. The worldwide favourite, second to water.
In the UK it is estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are disposed to landfill each year. This number was based on a 2011 estimate and current predictions go as high as 5 billion. To make the plastic cups heat and leakproof a Plastic lining is used. This plastic lining makes recycling of the cup hard, with only the cups disposed of in the big stores getting recycled. Even this is questionable, as I am well aware from working for a large corporation the burden of this recycling scheme will fall on an employee (probably at the end of a long hard shift) where the thought of digging through bins is far outweighed by bed.
How bad are these cups?
A paper from the VTT Technical Research Centre has estimated the carbon footprint for a standard Coffee. Packaging generally represents 5% of the total footprint, 80% growing and processing of the ingredients and 15% by transport.
The Total CO2e (a measure of the green house gas emissions) is 8.1g for a non-recycled standard paper cup and lid. A plastic reusable cup is around 20 times this value. Therefore to make your plastic reusable cup worthwhile, you need to use it! A steel made reusable cup needs to be used 130 times…you need to really use it!
8.1gCO2e × 5 billion = 40.5 thousand tonnes CO2e
If all the cups were made with a plant lining and recycled this number would decrease to 14 thousand tonnes. A saving equivalent as 28,000 people flying to new York from London. Big.
The bottom line:
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee “Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups”
Huhtamaki report: “Taking a closer look at paper cups for coffee” via VTT Technical Research Centre