How to prevent single-use coffee cups from leaking

Jane Merchant
May 25, 2022
How to prevent single-use coffee cups from leaking

The growing demand for environmentally friendly packaging materials has boosted the popularity of paper alternatives. 

Lightweight and cost effective, paper of different grades can be used to package and contain anything from medicine to cereal and even takeaway coffee. That said, its vulnerability to moisture means single-use paper cups must have a waterproof lining to prevent leaking. 

Traditionally, single-use paper cups were lined with polyurethane plastic. However, research has found these linings may contain harmful microplastic particles. Furthermore, few facilities can process and recycle cups that have plastic linings, which means they often end up in landfills. 

As single-use coffee cups are essential for takeaway offerings, roasters and cafe owners should explore sustainable cup lining alternatives. This includes biodegradable linings such as polylactic acid (PLA), which is toxin-free and made from renewable sources.

Read on to learn more about biodegradable linings for single-use coffee cups. 

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Pot of black filter coffee next to glass reusable coffee cup.

Why offer customers single-use coffee cups?

Some may wonder why cafes still invest in single-use takeaway cups when reusable options made from glass or bamboo fibres are readily available to consumers.

The answer is twofold: single-use cups are often considered as a more hygienic and practical option. Furthermore, they allow cafes to keep up with changing consumer shopping preferences. 

While reusable cups hold value for many customers, they do have some drawbacks. For instance, a takeaway coffee is often an impulse purchase rather than a pre-mediated one, which means consumers rarely have a reusable cup with them.

Additionally, to keep them free from bacteria, reusable cups must be washed with hot water and detergent after each use – which presents a challenge for those who are time-pressed or commuting. 

Studies also suggest reusable cups may not be as sustainable as people think. One study shows that it can take between 20 and 100 uses for a reusable cup to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions of a single-use cup. For ecosystem quality indicators, it can take more than 1,000 uses.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many customers have transitioned to working from home and placing more orders online or through delivery apps.

This is particularly true in markets such as China, where a growing number of consumers prize convenience when it comes to coffee consumption. The majority of these consumers are professional millennials with a disposable income.

With the effects of Covid-19 still prevalent, it is likely that these socially distanced ordering options will remain popular with customers.

Catering to these customers requires a strong focus on hygiene, and so, single-use cups are an effective and affordable option for most roasters. 

Caucasian barista wearing latex gloves hands Caucasian customers a takeaway coffee in a white, ripple wall single-use takeaway cup.

The challenges of single-use coffee cups

Single-use cups are an essential aspect of a customer’s coffee drink experience. 

When they perform as intended, they are likely to go unnoticed. However, if they are uncomfortable to hold, or tend to leak, single-use cups can damage the reputation of a business. 

Generally, the structure of plastic lined single-use cups performs well while holding hot beverages. The almost undetectable lining adds no weight to the cup, nor does it impact the taste of the drink. 

Ideally, these cups should be placed in designated bins in order to be collected and correctly processed to separate the plastic from the paper. However, this process rarely occurs for many reasons. 

First, as the cups contain both plastic and paper, they are often placed in the wrong recycling bin. When recycled with the wrong material, plastic lined cups may contaminate an entire batch of recyclable materials.

Additionally, there are not enough accessible facilities that have the correct infrastructure to collect and process plastic lined cups. 

Second, research shows polyethene coated cups can release trillions of plastic nanoparticles when exposed to high temperature liquids.

Caucasian female hand holding ripple wall cardboard single-use sustainable takeaway coffee cup with lid.

Alternatives to lining single-use coffee cups 

The increased demand for eco-friendly packaging has spurred the development of more sustainable materials, including single-use cup lining. 

The most popular forms are bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), which is made by fermenting natural starches into hydroxy acid. 

This thermoplastic polymer is applied to cups using extrusion equipment and functions much like plastic when protecting cups against hot liquids. 

PLA-lined takeaway cups and coffee packaging are highly appealing to roasters for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it has no negative effects on human health. 

Notably, it has been used to manufacture drug delivery systems, as well as scaffolding for semi-permanent medical implants. These include screws, pins and rods that are designed to degrade after six to twelve months. 

Moreover, PLA is compostable and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass compost without leaving behind toxic residues. 

This often requires PLA-lined cups to be sent to an industrial composting facility. Here, it is exposed to certain microorganisms that help it degrade in about three months. 

In many circumstances, PLA-lined cups can degrade in a home compost heap, however, this will be at a much slower rate. 

Depending on local collection and recycling facilities, roasters may be required to manage the disposal of these cups themselves. Product discounts and free-refills may help encourage customers to return their empty cups for proper recycling. 

Any business that serves takeaway beverages will need single-use cups. However, by using sustainable materials, such as cups made from paper and lined with PLA, roasters can offer customers a sturdy takeaway coffee that also helps to protect the environment. 

Two brown cardboard single-use takeaway coffee cups with white lids on yellow background with green leaves.

At MTPak Coffee, we can provide roasters and cafe owners with sustainable and compostable takeaway coffee cups made from recycled kraft paper and lined with PLA.

Strong, lightweight and compostable, these are the ideal choice for roasters looking to reduce the impact on the environment and communicate their commitment towards sustainability.

Our range includes double or single wall cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves. We can also help you brand your takeaway coffee cups with details of your business, allowing you to communicate the cup’s recycling qualities to customers.

This can be done using sustainable, water-based inks that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This means that while they are highly resistant to abrasion, water, and heat, they are also compostable and easy to remove for recycling.

Furthermore, we offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options. This means you can order as little as 500 fully customised units in just five working days.

For more information on sustainable takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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How to prevent single-use coffee cups from leaking

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