Using paper coffee cups has become so common that we don’t notice ourselves doing it. Many workers frequent a local coffee shop before they even reach the office in the morning, and university students will undoubtedly get through several takeaway coffees during a long stint in the library. As with many habits in our contemporary culture, the reason behind this is convenience; there’s no preparation or washing up involved, and we can take our paper-cup coffee wherever we please. Sadly, the cost of convenience can be high; there are consequences both to ourselves and to the environment that the majority of people are blissfully unaware of.
The more obvious of the paper-cup related dangers is the effect they have on the environment. Whilst it’s technically true that paper cups are recyclable, only a remarkably tiny percentage of them actually get recycled. This is because the cups are lined with a polythene coating which prevents the paper from disintegrating when it comes into contact with liquid. The result of this is that paper coffee cups can’t be recycled at a regular recycling plant and instead have to be sent to a specialist facility, but the overwhelming majority of them never make it there.
Of course, this is in addition to the environmental cost of manufacturing them in the first place, which usually involves felling trees as well as a notable carbon footprint. With regards to the environment, paper cups are not as ‘safe’ as we might like to believe.
The problems using paper coffee cups can potentially pose to our health are again related to the polythene layer which lines most paper cups. Rest assured, the wax in itself is not toxic, but the build up of this which occurs from continuous consumption of large quantities can be harmful, as the stomach’s ability to filter it out weakens, leading to problems in the intestines.
Thankfully, there are simple solutions to these problems which make the use of paper cups easily avoidable, helping both our bodies and our world! Keep cups have taken off hugely in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go in eliminating paper cups altogether. There has been talk of introducing charges for using a paper cup from a coffee shop; just as the similar charge that now exists for using plastic carrier bags from shops has given many of us the reminder we needed to pack a tote or other reusable bag, so too we may be encouraged to remember our keep cups when heading for a morning brew should such a charge be introduced. Another great tactic could be to encourage businesses to install commercial coffee machines in their offices, meaning employees could make their own specialty coffee directly into a mug upon arriving at work, without having to visit a coffee shop and use a disposable paper cup.
Of course, paper cups aren’t explicitly dangerous, but the cost of convenience is high, and their use does have negative knock-on effects. Avoiding these problems comes with very little effort on the consumer’s part, but it will take the vast majority of coffee drinkers to get on-board in order to make a difference.