Adding to the Coffee Cup Conundrum!

23 August 2019

For a couple of years now there has been a huge amount of information and what I consider to be misinformation over the best way to enjoy hot drinks on the go. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fresh from his attempts to improve the lot of intensively farmed, two for a fiver, supermarket chickens moved rapidly onto the single-use coffee cup. His “War on Waste bus plastered in 10,000 paper cups, the amount he calculated is used every two minutes in the UK certainly caught the media attention back in 2016. Now admittedly these cups cannot be used as part of the conventional paper recycling stream like newsprint and packing cardboard, due to a thin plastic lining, but does that make them a complete environmental pariah? The tree producing the vigin paper pulp used in cup production has pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere for all of the one hundred plus years of its growth cycle. Most conventional single use paper cups are collected in the normal waste stream and used in waste to heat power generation very locally rather than going to one of just half a dozen specialist recycle companies involving long distances of travel and energy use in the card / liner separation process.

There was a big push towards us buying a reusable plastic coffee cup with discounts from large coffee chains if you used one, and all sorts of funky designs and colours were forthcoming. Putting aside the logistics of cleaning it after use, and the inevitable “oh sh-t” moment when you realise it was left at home in the kitchen, there are question marks over the environmental impact of their production. Many are made in the Far East meaning a journey half way round the globe to get here and I have seen estimates as high as 200 uses before it has off set the greenhouse gas equivalence to producing a paper cup. I’m not sure how many reusable cups reach that milestone, my guess is not a lot!

There does seem to be almost a fixation with the “problem” of single use coffee cups as even with the large volumes used today they represent only 0.7% of UK packaging waste! More tellingly it is estimated that if you look at the overall carbon footprint of  a typical Latte takeaway coffee factoring in all the elements needed from the milk production, transporting the beans thousands of miles, producing the fertiliser used at the plantation as well as the heat and energy making the final finished drink the single use paper cup holding your favourite coffee represents less than 5% of that total final carbon footprint.

Our recently introduced Biodegradable paper cup is proving popular as it can be composted or used as a heat to energy contributor. Well worth considering a change, ask us for details.

Written by: Colin from KSV.

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