No more excuses. No more waiting. No more waste. For the longest time, coffee shops across America have sidestepped the “recycle your cup” issue because there have been no eco-friendly alternatives. In conventional hot water cups, the inner surface is lined with a petroleum-based plastic (polyethylene) to prevent leaking. This process alone prevents the cups from being recycled or composted. Here’s an interesting little fact,
“In 2005, Americans used and discarded 14.4 billion disposable paper cups for hot beverages. If put end-to-end, those cups would circle the earth 55 times. Based on anticipated growth of specialty coffees, that number will grow to 23 billion by 2010—enough to circle the globe 88 times. Based on hot cup usage in 2005, the petrochemicals used in the manufacture of those cups could have heated 8,300 homes for one year.” Damn.
So, for the longest time, we’ve been waiting for someone to solve this egregious situation. Thankfully, the answer has come from International Paper and Green Mountain Coffee. Their 100% biodegradable hot beverage cup has just won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2007 Sustainability Award. The “Ecotainer™ cup” has a liner made from corn instead of petrochemicals. In a blind trial test of more than 5 million cups, not one customer noticed anything “different” about the corn-based cups from the regular variety.
Sadly, while we’re one step ahead on the cup, the lid that completes the package is still an environmental enigma. There isn’t yet a bio-plastic that can take the form and function of a disposable hot cup lid. However, International Paper and Green Mountain are working with companies that have had breakthroughs with using soy for such a purpose. According to their site, this is the next advancement they are working to push to market.
In the meantime, I would encourage any coffee companies out there with green ambitions (ahem, Starbucks) to consider replacing their non-recyclable, non-compostable cups with this eco-friendly alternative. It kills me not to be able to recycle a hot paper cup because of the inner-plastic liner. For those moments I’m without a reusable mug, a little less guilt when I’m done getting my caffeine fix will be a rush.