Reusable or Disposable coffee cups - which one has a better carbon footprint?

Posted on November 09 2022

Almost everyone you know starts their day with a delicious jolt of caffeine. And people who don't drink coffee are missing out on one of the best things in life. It's like they're living in black and white, and we're living in colour. They're stuck in a world where they only get up to do their routine, not to seize the day.

Who doesn’t love some hot go-go bean juice?

Australians sure do. According to Sustainability Victoria, Australians throw away about 1 billion disposable coffee cups a year. Now that’s a lot of coffee, but also a lot of waste. 

Sure, you get disposable coffee cups that are somewhat biodegradable according to the print (or greenwashing) on the cup. But even 'recyclable’ coffee cups contain a thin plastic lining, and let’s not forget about the plastic lids. Furthermore, not all local councils accept coffee cups as recycling. 

This is why reusable cups, or keep cups, are gaining popularity among the environmentally conscious. But how sustainable are keep cups vs. disposable cups?

What Are They Made Of?

Disposable coffee cups are made from paper that is lined with plastic. The plastic is necessary to prevent the hot liquid from seeping through the paper cup.

Reusable cups are made from a variety of things. The keep cups you would most commonly find at stores are made from materials such as stainless steel, glass, ceramics, recycled plastics or bamboo. However, most of these materials require a lot of energy to produce.

A study of the lifecycle of stainless steel, polycarbonate and polypropylene reusable coffee cups vs. disposable cups found that disposable cups were actually better for the environment over a 1-year period. You would need to use those cups over 1000 times to make it worthwhile.

So you could go for those common reusable cups if you're committed to using them over a long period. Or, you could choose a keep cup made from more sustainable materials such as pebbles, sand, coffee husks and natural fibres like the ones sold at Urban Ethos.

How Long Do They Last?

As the name suggests, reusable cups can be reused multiple times. Urban Ethos coffee cups are dishwasher safe, so once you’re done with your beverage you can simply give it a wash and put it away for next time. Keep cups will last years if you take care of them properly. Disposable coffee cups, on the other hand, are meant to be thrown away after one use.

What Are They Made Of?

Keep cups are made in a factory, from start to finish. The materials are brought together and formed into the shape of a cup. Urban Ethos cups are made from a variety of materials that would otherwise have been discarded; pebbles, sand, coffee grounds and husks, corn starch and plant-based resin. The lids and sleeves are made from food-grade silicone. 

Disposable coffee cups are usually made from paper or foam. They are also made in a factory, however, the process is different because the plastic lining has to be applied. This is usually done by heat-sealing the plastic lining and the cup together. 

What is Their Impact on the Environment?

Keep cups have a smaller carbon footprint than disposable coffee cups because they can be reused multiple times. Furthermore, most reusable cups are made from recycled materials, which reduces the amount of waste going into landfills. Disposable coffee cups, on the other hand, create a lot of waste because they can only be used once.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Reusable Cup?

There are many benefits of using a reusable cup, including:

  • Reducing the amount of waste going into landfills
  • Reducing the amount of resources used to make disposable cups
  • Saving money in the long run

Reusable cups are also better for the environment because they have a smaller carbon footprint.

So next time you reach for a coffee cup, think about the impact it will have on the environment. If you can, opt for a reusable cup from Urban Ethos instead of a disposable one. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.

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