What could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups?

Janice Kanniah
September 23, 2022
What could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups?

As the number of eco-conscious consumers continues to grow, the packaging industry is undergoing a dramatic evolution.

Businesses and governments have long known the detrimental effects plastics can have on the environment. That said, the laws and regulations put into place to curb plastic pollution have only recently gained momentum.

While individual organisations have taken the initiative to transition to more sustainable forms of packaging, a historic resolution was passed earlier this year. This means all businesses are required to make tangible changes or face hefty fines and possibly, a negative public backlash in the future.

The UN Environment Assembly recently created a legally binding treaty pledging to end plastic pollution by 2024. Informally referred to as a global plastic treaty, this agreement plans to phase out plastic packaging throughout its life cycle – including its production, design, and disposal.

The treaty will impact a number of food and beverage businesses, including those in the specialty coffee sector. Whether due to a lack of affordable alternatives, or limited access to alternative recycling facilities, many roasters and coffee shops continue to use plastic coffee cups.

Read on to discover how the global plastic treaty will impact operations for coffee shops and roasters.

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An image of volunteers cleaning up plastic waste in an article on What could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups

Why create a global plastic treaty?

The United Nations Environment Programme was created in 1972 as one of the first conferences dedicated to addressing environmental concerns.

Over 50 years later, the programme has made significant strides, including the creation and adoption of the globally ratified Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This helped phase out ozone-depleting substances to replenish the ozone layer.

The positive impact of this is still unfolding, with areas including the Antarctic ozone hole continuing to repair over time.

Other efforts include the 2002 Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles to eliminate the use of lead fuel around the world. In the last 20 years, over 86 countries transitioned to unleaded fuel.

Research shows this has helped curb air pollution and encourage drivers to switch to cars with clean operating catalytic converters.

Plastic pollution is the UN’s next target. Currently, 175 countries have pledged to spend the next few years developing and integrating a more circular packaging economy that is completely plastic-free.

Notably, many countries are already implementing measures to make their final transition more successful. These include restricting plastic use, investing in alternative materials, and updating their recycling efforts.

That said, global plastic production received a second wind during the 2019 Covid-19 pandemic due to hygiene concerns. As a result, plastic production is expected to increase by as much as 40% over the next decade.

This has given many businesses the false impression that they can continue to use single-use plastics, despite the reality being much more complex.

An image of custom-printed paper takeaway coffee cups in a coffee shop in an article on What could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups

How will the global plastic treaty impact roasters and coffee shops?

Several specialty coffee shop owners and roasters are wondering how the global plastic treaty will unfold – with several recent events contributing to this concern.

Since the start of 2022, electricity costs across Europe have surged by 750%. Additionally, the global cost-of-living crisis is seeing more businesses and customers looking for affordable options over sustainable ones.

This could see the transition away from plastic become costly and more complicated than expected, as it will require support at a leadership level.

For instance, governments may need to tax major plastic producers or polluters, as well as create and share measurable targets for businesses to work towards.

More so, they will need to focus on improving citizen behaviour through education, and support local waste infrastructure and collection.

Many small businesses, such as coffee shops and specialty roasters, may struggle to understand how to plan for upcoming changes – especially as the treaty’s specific implementation details are still being hashed out on a practical level.

Therefore, completely overhauling a coffee shop or roastery may not be practical or affordable for many at this time. 

That said, there are still several ways business owners can help make the switch from plastic to more alternative materials easier when the time comes.

An image of a barista pouring milk into coffee in a disposable coffee cup in an article on what could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups.

Taking steps to phase out plastic cups

Businesses that are unable to completely phase out the use of plastic cups at the moment can take steps to operate in a more sustainable way.

Doing so will make the eventual transition much easier, as infrastructure and government support increases over time.

Create a plastics commitment

For instance, one of the first steps a coffee shops can take to address its use of plastic takeaway coffee cups is to create a “plastics commitment.”

This involves measuring how many cups it uses and exactly what materials they are made from.

Based on these numbers, and their associated costs, coffee shops can create a realistic and affordable goal to reduce its reliance on single-use coffee cups where possible.

Aim for alternatives

Several international coffee brands, such as Starbucks, have invested in transitioning away from plastics. 

This may prompt other smaller businesses to feel they have to overhaul the way their coffee shop or roastery operates – which can be a daunting and costly venture.

In reality, smaller switches can also make a significant impact. For instance, moving from plastic coated coffee cups to those made from paper or cardboard, and feature a wax, polyethylene (PE), or polylactic acid (PLA) coating instead.

These environmentally friendly coatings, which prevent the cup from leaking, are able to break down naturally over time, without leaving behind any toxic residue. Additionally, they are much easier to recycle.

Educate your customers

Understandably, some customers can become confused about the transition to sustainable materials.

For instance, they may think a takeaway coffee cup may not be 100% recyclable due to contradicting information over its materials and how they can be disposed of.

In turn, this may give customers a false impression of how their purchasing choices impact the planet. Coffee shops and roasters can prevent this by being transparent about how takeaway cups can be recycled, and exactly how customers can dispose of them.

For example, custom-printing disposal instructions on takeaway cups can help ensure customers know what recycling bin to place their empty cups in, or whether they should be returned to the coffee shop for collection and processing.

With many areas lacking the infrastructure to collect and process plastic alternatives, the latter option might be worth considering.

An image of a yellow multilayered coffee bag filled with roasted coffee in an article on What could a global plastic treaty mean for disposable cups

As time passes and the global plastics treaty progresses in its implementation, so will the understanding of what coffee businesses need to do.

MTPak Coffee can help you to take steps to make this easier.We can help your café or roasting business phase out its reliance on single-use plastics by offering you cost-effective and practical takeaway alternatives.

We provide roasters and coffee shops with sustainable, custom-printed coffee cups and coffee packaging. Our cups are made of sustainable materials, such as kraft paper, or PET, with a PLA lining. They are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable.  

Additionally, we can custom-print takeaway coffee cups to your specifications using digital printing or sustainable water-based inks that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) and highly resistant to abrasion, water, and heat.

Our range of cups is available in three different sizes: 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz, and we offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options. This means you can order as few as 500 fully customised units in just five working days.

For more information on sustainable, custom-printed takeaway coffee cups, contact our team.

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