The Problem With Takeaway Coffee Cups

Coffee culture is deeply ingrained into our lifestyle, with 3 in 4 Australians reporting they cannot survive the day without it (Mordor Intelligence, 2019). The most popular coffee was the latte, followed by flat white and cappuccino (Square, 2018).

Australian favourite coffees

Why should you use a reusable coffee cup?

Coffee plays a big part in our lives. And it also plays a big part in the amount of plastic waste we discard.

This may surprise you: single-use coffee cups presents a huge issue for recycling centres. Why? The takeaway coffee cup typically has an inner plastic lining, designed to prevent leakage. This plastic coating is difficult to separate from the rest of the paper cup. This means your average takeaway coffee cup cannot be recycled as either paper or plastic, as these materials need different treatment methods (Simmonds, 2019). So what does this mean for us? Every year in Australia, millions of takeaway coffee cups end up in our landfill.

With a bright idea in 2014, Simply Cups established the first coffee cup recycling program. Special bins were introduced so that coffee cup lids could be disposed separately and recycled as a plastic. But the body of these single-use coffee cups is still piling up in our landfill.

Most plastics are used only once before being discarded. These plastics take hundreds of years to break down. Yet they do not break down entirely. Instead, these plastics become microplastics - extremely small pieces of plastic debris - which do not biodegrade. These particles have contaminated the globe from high mountains to deep oceans (Carrington, 2019). Moreover, they have also been introduced into the food chain from zooplankton to whales. Analysis of a new study (Dalberg, 2019) shows that you could be eating 5 grams of plastic every week – that’s equivalent to eating a credit card every week!

Plastic is also extremely cheap. Early disposable plastics become synonymous with a rising middle class where plastic packaging, bottles, and bags. Single-use plastics were convenient and easy, and contributed to the rise of a “throwaway lifestyle”.

In addition, plastic is designed to be durable, light and inexpensive. So plastic played key roles in history – being used in parachutes in WWII to save lives, to create lighter vehicles making travel easier, and in revolutionising medicine (Parker, National Geographic, 2016). To deny the use of plastic altogether, we would not have phones, clothing or cars as we know it.

Plastic is everywhere and it doesn’t disappear. However, we can all become more conscious of our choices to minimise our plastic waste and it's impact on our environment.

How can we do better?

In order to make a truly noticeable impact on our plastic waste issue, we need to do more on an individual and global scale. We can begin by reducing our use of single-use coffee cups. Instead follow the mantra: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Reusable coffee cups offer a more sustainable solution, with a multitude of other benefits including insulation and personalised designs.

Make your coffee exceptional, and say no to single-use plastics. 

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  1.  Carrington, D. (2019, August). Microplastics ‘significantly contaminating the air’, scientists warn. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  2. Dalberg (2019). No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People. Commissioned by WWF. Retrieved from
  3. Mordor Intelligence (2019). Australia Coffee Market Trends and Forecasts. Retrieved from
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). What are microplastics? Retrieved from
  5. Parker, L. (2016). We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We’re Drowning In It. National Geographic. Retrieved from
  6. Simmonds, C. (2019, June). How you're recycling plastic wrong, from coffee cups to toothpaste. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  7. Simply Cups (2019). About Simply Cups. Retrieved from
  8. Square (2018). The 2018 Square Australian Coffee Report. Retrieved from


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