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The Waste Mountain of Coffee Cups

Most of us like to think we’re doing the right thing with an empty cup by throwing it into the bin marked “recycling”. But contrary to popular belief, the mountain of waste that comes from coffee cups is staggering, especially in the US. 

It’s no secret that we’re a nation of coffee lovers. But just how much of an impact is this having – and how harmful is this seemingly innocent fixture in most people’s daily routine? Let’s find out.

Read on to discover the impact your paper coffee cup can have on the environment…

The problem with paper coffee cups 

The problem is that the name “paper coffee cups” is in reality, very deceiving and misleading. Paper coffee cups are not just made out of paper. They actually include a layer of polyethylene (which is plastic) and they usually are accompanied by a plastic lid. Although convenient, this means that they cannot be recycled with other paper and cardboard items. It’s estimated that only a mere 1 in 4 paper cups are able to be recycled. 

How many coffee cups are thrown away in the US each year? 

It’s no secret that Americans adore coffee. So much so that it’s estimated that 50 billion paper coffee cups are being thrown away every year. And yes, that’s just in the US. 

To put it into perspective, here’s what that looks like.


Where our paper cups go 

These seemingly harmless paper cups end up piling up in landfill sites across the country – and they don’t just disappear. They’ll stay there for decades before they start degrading. And it’s an even bleaker outcome for the lids – they’ll never degrade. Eventually (and we’re talking at least 450 years), they will break up into microplastic particles which can have even more drastic consequences for human and animal health. 

The impact of plastic waste in our oceans 

These pieces of plastic particles don’t stop being harmful there. Plastic waste ends up being dumped everywhere, and this is especially true with our oceans. Avoidable plastic waste (such as coffee cups) are dumped into our oceans by the ton. Marine life is impacted significantly by this, which is why we’re seeing 100 million marine animals die each year due to plastic consumption on a global scale. It’s estimated that 99% of all seabird species will have eaten pieces of plastic by 2050.

The impact of plastic in America 

The future is looking quite bleak if we don’t get ahead of our plastic problem soon. Don’t believe us? Here are some concerning facts about the US plastic crisis that you need to know about: 

  • Takeout packaging in the US accounts for around 269 thousand tons of plastic waste currently circulating in our oceans. 
  • 500 million plastic straws are thrown away in the US every day. 
  • In the US, only 14% of plastic packaging gets recycled.
  • Americans will account for the use of 25 billion styrofoam cups every year. 
  • It’s estimated that we consume around 20kg of microplastic particles in our lifetime. 
  • Our consumption of microplastic particles has been directly linked to infertility issues, along with certain cancers. 
  • In more ways than one, plastic now negatively impacts the lives of all living things. 

What you can do to make a difference 

Don’t worry – it’s not all doom and gloom. There is definitive room for improvement, and the good news is that it’s possible. There are ways that you can start creating a better environment, which will directly contribute to changing our future for a better and more sustainable one. 

It’s cool to be kind to the environment – so let’s work together and rewrite the future. If you’re unsure of where to start – here are some tips on what you can do to make a difference to the environment:

  • Invest in a reusable coffee cup. This will significantly reduce the amount of avoidable waste produced by using single-use paper cups. 
  • Reduce the rate of deforestation and use ecards instead of paper versions, of course! 
  • Avoid plastic shopping bags by investing in reusable ones.
  • If you’re going somewhere close by, walk, car share, or hop on public transport instead. 
  • Avoid fast fashion – thrifting is much more fun, and our environment will thank you for it. 
  • Always keep a lookout for eco-friendly products. 
  • Upcycle and recycle wherever possible. 
  • Invest in and/or support causes that will make a difference. 
  • If you have the space, create your own vegetable patch in the garden and grow your own. 
  • Avoid aerosols – opt for a stick deodorant instead. 
  • Visit a farmers market. The food is much fresher, and you hopefully won’t see any plastic packaging there! Make sure you don’t forget your reusable shopping bags. 
  • Reduce your energy consumption by turning off lights in rooms you are not in.
  • Avoid any single-use plastic straws and lids. In fact, reduce plastic altogether by avoiding anything that you don’t need and/or is unnecessary that includes plastic packaging. 
  • Keep tabs on food that’s going to waste at home. If you’re going to the store and buying food that you just aren’t eating – stop to reduce unnecessary waste. 
  • Along with a reusable coffee cup – remember to bring a spoon with you as well. Those disposable stirrers sure do add up. 
  • Support important causes that’ll rewrite our future, such as the ban of single-use plastic and styrofoam.

Learn more about festive ecards with eCo2 Greetings and how to reduce your environmental impact.

Learn more about what you can do to protect the environment and reduce your carbon footprint with our eCo2 Greetings blog.

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