How to make your coffee shop more sustainable? Each day in Ireland and the UK, millions of people enjoy the convenience of a coffee on the go.
This is an essential part of their business for many coffee shops, particularly in the face of Covid induced restrictions.
The takeaway side of a business benefits coffee shops by increasing custom without taking up valuable seating.
But clever branding on cups can also help boost customer awareness and drive new business through the door.
So, it seems like a perfect solution that keeps both consumers and retailers happy. But scratch just below the surface, and a storm is brewing, and it isn’t just a storm in a teacup either.
This article details the problems facing the takeaway drink industry and describes what could be the perfect solution –
Fully compostable disposable cups.
The Disposable Cup problem
Let’s look at some stark facts.
According to the environmental organisation Earthday, the world uses over 500 billion disposable cups of all types each year and around 16 billion of these are coffee cups.
This is a staggering number, but it’s worse than that. These figures date from pre-covid times, they do not account for the surge in takeaway drinks sales that were forced on retailers in the wake of the pandemic.
Then there are the cups themselves, most of which are manufactured using plastic-coated paper.
This makes them incredibly difficult and costly to recycle. So much so that according to the BBC, only 0.25% of coffee cups will be recycled.
This is bad news for our landfill sites, oceans, and countryside.
In effect, what this equates to is that an item with a useful life of perhaps 30-minutes will still be a pollutant for hundreds of years to come.
The Recycling Problem
The problem with recycling traditional disposable cups is mainly down to the blend of materials used in their manufacture. When it comes to recycling, paper and plastic are not good bedfellows.
The fact that there aren’t recycling bins for this blend is a testament to this reality.
In the case of plastic-coated cups, only a few specialised facilities can recycle them.
Logistically, this makes them unlikely ever to reach the inside of one, which is why only 1-in-400 ever does.
One solution is to switch to cups that are manufactured using plant-based plastics. Polylactic Acid (PLA) cups claim to be a greener and compostable answer, but they are only a partial solution.
The problem lies in the coating again; although the plastic is manufactured from organic material, it is still plastic. This has many of the inherent problems associated with the material.
So, although these are a better option, they still suffer from some substantial drawbacks, including:
- Requires Industrial Composting – Unlike fully compostable disposable cups, PLA cups can’t just be thrown in the home compost bin. Instead, they need to be composted under conditions where they are exposed to a heat of 60° C and above.
- Recycling – Once again, the notoriously difficult to recycle blend of paper and plastic rears its ugly head. These cups require the same specialist facilities to recycle.
- Plastic – Although PLA plastics will degrade faster than with standard cups, they will still loiter around for decades, if not centuries.
The Solution – Aqueous Based Coatings
The coating on a cup is essential to retain both the temperature and the integrity of the cup. However, we don’t have to use plastic for the coating.
Aqueous (water-based) coatings provide the same degree of thermal insulation and liquid-proofing but have no associated problems with their plastic brethren.
Irish company, Think Greener are at the forefront of a revolution that could save the takeaway drinks industry and massively reduce the strain on our landfill sites, not to mention oceans and countryside.
With a product that biodegrades at the same rate as a sheet of newspaper, their brandable and fully compostable cups will happily decompose in a home compost bin.
For the retailer, this product has some pretty compelling reasons to make them switch.
Why coffee shops will benefit by switching to compostable coffee cups
Ultimately, such a switch is likely to be mandated by governments as the drive to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics gathers speed.
Already many countries are legislating to reduce such waste, and disposable cups will be high on the target list.
Therefore, it will be advantageous for retailers to switch as soon as possible.
Benefits of making the switch early include:
- Consumer Loyalty – Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on the environmental impact of their actions. By switching to a truly compostable solution, retailers can take advantage of this switch in consumer habits.
- Fantastic Branding Opportunity – Disposable coffee cups have always been a fantastic advertising method. Switching to compostable coffee cups is a great opportunity to get your message across and tell consumers that your business cares.
- The Big Picture – Of course, this planet is our only home, and therefore the ultimate benefit of switching to a compostable coffee cup is to reduce the harm we are doing to the planet.
It might seem like switching to a compostable coffee cup is a mere drop in the ocean. But a single drop can signal the start of a rainstorm.
If we want to reduce the damage that using 16 billion coffee cups annually does, then we all urgently need to work towards the same goal.
The Final Sip
The world is teetering on the brink of an environmental calamity of Hollywood blockbuster proportions. It might seem like disposable coffee cups have a minor role to play in this movie.
However, just like our use of all other single-use plastics, we must address this problem soon.
The good news is that the solution already exists, unlike many other issues we face!
Fully compostable coffee cups can ensure customers can enjoy a guilt-free latte, and retailers can reap the benefits simply by switching to a green solution that doesn’t cost the earth.
Image provided by thinkgreener.ie and content by Anna Byrne.