Foam vs paper vs reusable cups

If you’re like me you’re constantly trying to reduce the amount of waste or non-recyclable items you use, and I stumbled into an interesting reddit post about Dunkin Donuts use of foam cups. I wouldn’t have though this…

Some Dunkins participate in in-store foam cup recycling. Despite the negative stereotypes, foam cups have a lower carbon footprint than paper cups and in some cases they might have a lower carbon footprint than reusable cups.

Paper cups have an interior plastic liner to protect the cup from getting soggy. This plus the glue to hold the cups together make it very difficult to recycle because to separate the paper from the plastic liner the paper has to be boiled off of the cup. This energy and time makes it expensive to recycle so most recycling facilities will not recycle a paper cup. This is why you have a better chance of recycling the foam cup than the paper cup.

Additionally, paper cups take more material than a foam cup (a foam cup is about 90% air), and the paper cup materials are compounded with double cupping or sleeves. Also if you use a cold paper cup, those have a double plastic coating on each side to protect the paper cup from getting soggy due to condensation.

Reusable cups can have a lower carbon footprint if you use that reusable cup thousands of times. The materials, the shipping, and the washing of a reusable cup take a lot of time to equal the same carbon footprint as a foam cup, and if the foam cup is recycled then that is even better. During California’s water crisis, washing reusable was a big “drain” on the water supply, so single-use containers were the best options in many scenarios.


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