In 2020, when we weren’t allowed to sit in cafes or bring reusable cups, I accumulated about 60 takeaway coffee cups and put them in my garage.
You know the ones: tapered, with holey lids, nice to sip from on car trips and walks with friends. We see them daily, cradled in people’s hands or abandoned on the footpath. Coffee cups are a bit of an icon of modern society. In a land of cassowaries and koalas, we’re more invested in tapered containers designed to hold a brown liquid for a short amount of time after which they’ll head to landfill or the ocean.
Australians use around one billion takeaway coffee cups each year. Around ninety per cent of these end up in landfill. Fifty thousand single-use coffee cups – enough to fill a whole Melbourne tram – were thrown out every thirty minutes in Australia in 2017. Normal plastic-lined coffee cups are leaking microplastics and heavy metals into your coffee.
Does that sound bad to you? Here’s what I found out about where to recycle our coffee cups.
(It’s not the recycling bin.)
Option 1: Don’t put your coffee cup in the recycling bin
The plastic lining in your takeaway coffee cup means it can’t be recycled in the normal way. Putting a takeaway coffee cup in the recycling bin will mean the whole load of recycling goes to landfill.
There’s a solution. Simply Cups has special recycling stations across Australia to give your coffee cups new life. Every 7/11 store has one. So does Muffin Break and The Coffee Club. Just bring your cups along, put the lids in one tube and the cups in another.
But first, check your cup: if it says “compostable”, move on to Option 2 (below). If it says nothing, go ahead and find a coffee cup recycling stationnear you.
Option 2: Compost your coffee cup
Your compostable single-use coffee cup has a plant-based lining that will compost in industrial or home composting conditions. But it won’t compost in landfill.
Another reason to go with compostable cups: according to a recent study, the plastic lining in regular takeaway cups leaks microplastics and heavy metals (iron, chromium, and cadmium) into your coffee. That is not the kind of flavour note you want in your long black.
Lots of coffee shops use compostable cups now, thanks to brands like BioPak. But these coffee shops don’t educate customers on the cups, let alone provide collection stations. That means it’s up to you to put your compostable takeaway coffee cup in the right place.
Here’s how. The cup will say if it’s commercially compostable or home compostable. You can put both kinds in a green bin for your council’s industrial composting service. Or, if you compost at home, cut up your home-compostable cup into small pieces and let it fertilise your garden.
Option 3: BYO cup, or eat it
Another option is to buy or make your own coffee cup.
Available now, the Good Edi Cup sells edible takeaway coffee cups.
So there you have it. In 2021, we have three options for reducing our coffee lifestyle’s impact on the planet. We can bring our own re-usable cups. Failing that, we can recycle our coffee cups at special recycling stations. Or we can choose cafes that sell compostable cups, and then actually compost them.
As far as I could, I made sure my 60 lockdown coffee cups stayed out of landfill.
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at email@example.com