Action 331: Don’t use disposable coffee cups

Coffee cupDate: 27 November
Action: 331
Cost of taking action: LOW


By our guest author Halima Curran in Libya

Badly in need of a rejuvenating cup of coffee whilst shopping or travelling?

That’s happened to many of us, but whilst savouring the (hopefully) exquisite brew and feeling the transformation from zombie to human take place, take a look at that innocuous paper cup in your hand.

Did you know that, worldwide, an average of 1.6 billion papercups are used every year, solely for coffee?


Their production entails the felling of 6.5 million trees, the use of 4 billion gallons of water and sufficient power to keep 54,000 homes running for an entire year.

Actually, a staggering 20 million trees are felled to make single-use paper cups for drinks, including coffee.

That coffee doesn’t taste quite so good, does it?

And that’s not all. If you read my last article about deforestation you’ll already know that the loss of these millions of trees means less CO2 is being absorbed from the air, resulting in increasingly polluted air and more heat being trapped in the atmosphere, which leads to global warming. And don’t forget the chlorine used to bleach the cup, and the polyethylene coating, a necessary addition that stops the coffee soaking through it and making a mess all over your clothes, to keep the cup in shape and retain heat.


Even if you put your cup in the recycling bin, the majority still go into a landfill. Why? It’s cheaper!

It’s simply not good economics to put that cup through the numerous processes required to remove contaminants (your coffee), dirt, dyes and the plastic lining.

According to the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, only one in four hundred paper cups are recycled. That means the vast majority will go to a rubbish tip with the toxic ability to produce 152,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, similar to what 330,000 cars produce in a year.

They also produce methane which is an even more potent greenhouse gas.

And, of course, the plastic in the cups breaks down into tiny microplastics and nanoplastics which filter into the earth and water, find their way into the food chain and end up in our bodies.

Forget Styrofoam cups too, they are made from nasties like synthetic resins, polyesters and acrylics and may take up to an estmated million years to decompose.  Hot liquids (e.g., coffee), cause styrene to leach from cups: this chemical has been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer.

That coffee in your convenient, disposal cup is beginning to taste a bit sour now, isn’t it? All those beautiful, useful, CO2 absorbing trees hacked down, CO2 and methane released into the atmosphere, and plastic contaminating the environment – all just so you can have your cuppa and throw the cupin the bin.

reusable cups

Readily available: reusable cups


However, you can make a change now!

Go and buy a reusable cup and stick with it.

The best type of mug to use should be a good quality, lightweight, impact proof one made of stainless steel with a lid. That way any dregs won’t leak onto your clothes (if you’ve stuffed it in a pocket) or bag.

Companies can be encouraged to provide mugs for their employees with the company logo, instead of squandering on stacks of disposable cups.  Coffee vendors sometimes give discounts to customers bringing their own reusable mugs and should provide coffee in “real” cups or mugs to those customers who wish to drink it on the premises.

Oh, as an aside, don’t worry about catching Covid-19 from a reusable mug, the soap used in the washing process kills the virus by dissolving its outer coating.

Biodegradable cups

Whilst valiant attempts are being made to invent biodegradable cups, there is still the problem on how much water and energy goes into their making.  There are compostable paper cups but they have to be transported by lorry to a high-temperature industrial composting facility, which makes their carbon footprint even bigger and they are still made from our precious trees.  Selfridges take back their coffee cups to turn into their familiar bags but pulping them is still difficult and, of course, there’s all that water and energy used in the process.

A UK company produces recycled cups with a separately-made plastic lining … but it is just easier to use your own reusable mug? It might be strange at first … you feel the odd one out … the coffee vendor may look askance at your humble mug … but this should add – not detract – from your feeling of eco-nobility!

It’s simply not right to burden future generations with our garbage. Make that small step to saving the world!


If you have a hoard of used disposable cups lurking in your car/room, don’t throw them away!  Give them a rinse, let them drip-dry and wait for my next article which will give you an idea on how to turn them into Christmas decorations! 😊

Take action

Take action now, order a reusable coffee mug and take it with you to the coffee shop each time. Simples!

Sources used include Euronews, the Papercup Recovery and Recycling Group, and the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

This item is contributed by our guest writer Halima Curran in Libya; thank you Halima

You can read more from Halima or follow her on Twitter at @HRafferty1