Most of our classic go-to coffee cups are only designed for one-time use. As such, after using them we are used to simply tossing them in the trash. You may wonder though, if these cups are made from paper why aren’t they recyclable? And what about wax-coated paper cups? Are we tossing them in the trash as well?
Wax-coated paper cups should only be disposed of in the commercial compost bin and not the garbage bin, as the thin layer of wax on the paper requires extreme temperatures to be broken down. This is because wax paper cups are compostable, unlike regular cups, that are lined with a thin layer of plastic. No paper cup should ever end up in recycling.
You may be wondering; isn’t composting also a form of recycling? And if so, why can’t you recycle wax-coated paper cups along with the rest of your paper and cardboard? Well, for answers to these questions and more you have certainly landed at the right place. So, let’s get to it!
Disposing Wax Coated Or Bio-Based Paper Cups
Did you know that an estimated 6 billion paper cups are thrown in the trash every year in the US alone? That is a staggering number of paper cups! Unfortunately, that isn’t even the worst part. Large coffee retailers recycle less than 1% of their cups making paper cup waste disposal a real issue in the fight for less waste.
As we face a global garbage crisis, new and innovative packaging methods are constantly being introduced to try and curtail waste volume ending up in landfills. Alternatives such as these 9 oz. wax coated paper cups can be bought online. These paper cups don’t contain any plastic and are made from 100% organic wax, which makes them perfectly compostable when integrated in an industrial process (commercial compost).
The name of the industrial process is “Aerated (Turned) Windrow Composting”.
To check if a paper cup is wax coated simply scrape the outer surface with your fingernail. If you see wax accumulating underneath your nails you know it is indeed wax-coated.
Another way to tell is to check around or under the cup for an official certification:
- BPI in the USA
- TÜV AUSTRIA in Europe.
This means the cup can safely be disposed of in the compost bin!
Certified compostable paper cups that are made from polylactic acid (PLA) are also compostable and can be disposed of in your compost cart.
Composting is a form of natural recycling of organic waste to create fertilizer; that is in turn used to grow crops. By increasing compost and recycling we can reduce garbage which is what bio-based paper cups aim to do.
Bio-based paper cups can offer an environmentally friendly solution to enjoying your daily intake of beverages on the go!
How To Correctly Dispose Of Paper Cups
Nearly all coffee and soda cups are lined with a thin coating of polyethylene or plastic, although we are seeing more and more compostable cups on the American market. The volume of plastic can be up to 5% in any given paper cup.
This plastic coating prevents your cup from being leaky and holding its shape even when your coffee’s boiling hot! It is also because of this plastic that your paper cup can’t be recycled.
However, that doesn’t mean you should toss it in the trash. The accessories that your paper cup comes with can in fact be recyclable.
To correctly dispose of your paper cups you should do the following:
- Remove the paper sleeve that your coffee cup is wrapped in. This paper sleeve can be recycled along with the rest of your corrugated cardboard.
- The plastic lid could also be recyclable. Check with your local authority to see if they accept #1-7 plastics in non-bottle form for recycling. If they do, you can remove the lids and put them in the recycling bin.
- After stripping off its accessories you can now toss the paper cup in the trash.
Is It Easier To Dispose Of Plastic Cups Vs Paper Cups
Yes, plastic cups that are recyclable are easier to dispose of than paper cups and also more environmentally friendly, if they are recycled, of course. This is unless they are made from styrofoam which can’t be recycled and shouldn’t be used if possible.
Styrofoam or expanded polystyrene has a very long half-life making it one of the least environmentally friendly materials that end up in our landfills.
Most plastic cups are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or #1 plastic. In most U.S. cities and suburbs this form of plastic is acceptable for recycling.
This makes plastic cups a lot more environmentally friendly and easier to dispose of than paper cups. Simply toss the plastic cup into a recycling bin and you should be good to go!
Tips On How You Can Reduce Paper Cup Waste
The best way to reduce paper cup waste is to not use paper cups in the first place. Even using recyclable plastic cups isn’t the best idea as even though these cups are recyclable; not all of the plastic is.
If you are concerned about adversely impacting the environment due to your single-use paper cup abuse you can look at the following ways to reduce your paper cup waste contribution.
- Buy a reusable coffee mug/cup. Most coffee shops will allow you to bring in your own mug and some will even offer free refills!
- If you have to use a paper cup, strip away any accessories it may have that can be recycled.
- Use wax-coated paper cups or bio-based paper cups that are compost certified.
Wax-coated paper cups offer an environmentally friendly solution to the growing issue of paper cup waste. By being 100% organic, wax-coated paper cups are compostable and don’t end up in landfills polluting our environment.
Unfortunately, these cups currently cost a lot more to make as compared to traditional plastic-lined paper cups which limits their use for commercial applications. Moreover, in the USA as well as in the rest of the world, the industrial composting facilities to process these cups are in the minority.
For those of you that are concerned about the environmental impacts of paper cups, I suggest using alternatives such as reusable mugs, plastic cups, or bio-based paper cups. All three are far better options as compared to traditional paper cups.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Types of Composting and Understanding the Process
- Napa Recycling and Waste Services
As the founder of Container FAQs, my goal is to provide readers with in-depth information on the containers used in daily life and related subjects. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any suggestions for articles you would like to see on my blog.