On our recent trip to South America, we noticed that we were the only ones was walking around with a take-away coffee – the only ones! It was then that I realised that coffee on the run was now a social norm in Australia, so much so, people don’t even bat an eyelid; but does it mean that we’re ALL unknowingly contributing to ruining our environment?
More than 1 billion coffee cups are produced every year in Australia generating over 70,000kgs of waste and the sad truth is, despite what people think, they aren’t recyclable1.
Coffee cups are lined with a film of polyethylene (the same stuff used to make plastic bags and plastic water bottles). This plastic lining prevents the coffee leaking through the paper cup. It’s this lining that deems them unfit for the recycling process. To top it off, this polyethylene releases methane gas when sent to landfill, a greenhouse gas 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide1.
What about the lid?
The good news, coffee cup lids are recyclable however ONLY if they have a plastic identification code stamp (1-6) 1
The bad news? The lids containing codes 1, 2, 4 & 5 are likely to contain BPA and phthalates2 – you can read more about the dangers of BPA here.
But what about the biodegradable or compostable ones?
Whilst it’s a step in the right direction, these cups require commercial composting systems to break them down. How many of these facilities do we have in Australia? I’m still searching. Will your cup make it there? Your guess is as good as mine.
The term ‘biodegradable’ coffee cup is also misleading, as the theory behind this process is yet to be scientifically proven3.
But I only have one per day?
Just 1 cup of take-away coffee per day = 365 cups per year. If you’re a fan of the long black, that’s 730 coffee cups per year as they give you two for “insulation”. YIKES.
I’ll admit that when I sat down and did the maths, I was completely taken aback. Was it really worth creating all this environmental damage for a very short, insignificant 10mins (the amount of time it takes for me to drink my coffee)? As you can imagine, my answer was something along the lines of “hell no” and I realised things had to change.
What can you do?
SLOW DOWN – One of the problems with the modern world (and our digestion) is that we don’t focus on the food when we consume it. As a result, our body CANNOT prepare digestion accordingly, the mind continues racing and we only put MORE stress on our system with food or drink coming in and our digestion being caught off guard. The solution? Take 10 minutes of your day and grant yourself permission to sit down at your local café, sip your coffee, and watch the world go by. Now, before you tell me you don’t have time, start small, do this 2 times a week (that’s 2 x 52) saving 110 coffee cups (or 220 coffee cups for long black drinkers) per year – sounds worth it right.
BUY A RE-USABLE CUP – These are an incredible way to reduce your impact on the environment and they are a great conversation starter. You’ll be surprised just how popular you become.
- 1 University of Queensland, ‘Coffee Cups’. Available here: http://uq.edu.au/sustainability/docs/resources/ps_coffeecups.pdf
- Musgrave, D & Winder, C 2013, ‘Should We Avoid Eating Hot Food from Plastic Bowls and Dishes’, ABC Health & Wellbeing. Available here: http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2013/04/23/3737325.htm
- Whyte, S 2015, ‘Takeaway coffee cups piling up in landfill as Australia’s caffeine habit soars’, ABC. Available here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-03/takeaway-coffee-cups-piling-up-in-landfill/7136926