Becoming Waste Wise: Single Use Coffee Cups

By Tera Grady –

I was recently at one of the CRD’s smaller landfills touring a group around the site. We stopped by the trench to discuss the garbage accumulation. It was astounding to many in the group how most of the waste was recyclable even with a recycling depot less than five metres away. Plastic bags and plastic containers stood out as the most obvious and frequent items. However, with further inspection, the single use coffee cups started to appear.

While the exact number of single use coffee cups that end up in local landfills is unknown, a single fast food restaurant in Williams Lake passes out approximately 6,300 disposable coffee cups a week. That adds up to 327,600 cups per year just from one business.

Copyright : siraphol, 123rf.com

Copyright : siraphol, 123rf.com

The convenience of the “to go” coffee cup is taken for granted by many with little thought given to the true costs of the cup. Yet, the economic and environmental costs are many. The retailer, and in turn the consumer, pays for each cup. Most single use coffee cups consist of over 100 per cent virgin bleached paperboard, which requires significant amounts of energy, water, and trees to produce. Transportation of the cups also consumes resources. Once the cup has served its purpose, the disposal costs begin with the transportation to the landfill and then the operational costs of managing the landfill. Once the paper cups reside within the landfill, they start to decompose and produce methane gas—a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.

One seemingly simple solution is to recycle the paper “to go” cups. Consumers in Williams Lake can recycle their empty and clean paper “to go” cups in their curbside recycling. Often the cups do not make it back home, though, and they end up in the garbage somewhere else.

Another suggestion is to make cups out of recycled paper as a way of reducing their impact. Unfortunately, recycled paper is not approved for direct contact with food or beverages and is not strong enough to hold hot liquids.

Naturally, another solution is the reusable cup. Yet some people wonder if reusable cups are any better. While manufacturing a reusable cup does have a bigger impact on the environment than producing a paper cup, using a reusable cup in place of a disposable cup does reduce the environmental impacts. For example, a stainless-steel mug used 24 times is more environmentally friendly than using 24 paper cups. Since most manufacturers design reusable mugs for 3,000 uses, the positive environmental impacts can be great.

Overall, the best approach is to use a reusable mug but only own one or two. If you have a cupboard full, you are missing the point. Keep track of your favourite mug and keep it close to help reduce the amount of paper “to go” cups unnecessarily filling our landfills.

Join the Cariboo Regional District in 2017 by resolving to become waste wise and make a difference.Waste Wise Photo

The CRD wants to see how the “Cariboo Cares.” Email talktrash@cariboord.ca and tell us where you recycle your glass, foam packaging and plastic bags (or how you avoid these items so you don’t have to recycle them). The first five emails will receive a free Cariboo Cares re-usable travel mug!

Learn more by following us on Facebook at facebook.com/caribooregion, visiting us online at cariboord.ca, or looking for our waste wise articles in your local paper. For more information on the Waste Wise Program, call (250) 398-7929. You can also find more details on Waste Wise activities and events at ccconserv.org.

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