Are takeaway coffee cup lids recyclable?

Hayley Osbourne
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April 21, 2023
An image of a coffee consumer playing with the lid of a takeaway coffee cup, coffee cup lid, cup lid, in an article on whether takeaway coffee cup lids are recyclable

Cup lids are a common addition to takeaway coffee offerings because they serve several purposes. Primarily, they provide a safe, leak-proof way for consumers to drink their coffee on the go. Depending on the style of the lid, they may entirely cover the top of the cup, or provide a small slit through which consumers can sip from.

Takeaway cup lids can also help retain a coffee’s aroma. Several studies suggest scent is responsible for around 80% of what we taste. Notably, food operators often use smell to entice customers, increase impulse sales, and therefore, income revenue. Takeaway cup lids are also highly effective at trapping heat, allowing consumers to sip their coffee for longer.

However, a growing number of reports state around 81% of consumers expect brands to use sustainable packaging materials. More so, over half of consumers consider sustainability when purchasing products, and a third say they would pay more for eco-friendly packaging. In order for coffee brands to expand, it is clear they must make sustainable packaging a priority, and that includes takeaway cup lids and other accessories.

Read on to learn how your business can maintain customer loyalty by making the switch to sustainable takeaway coffee cup lids. 

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How coffee cup lids became a staple offering

The very first patent for coffee cup lids can be traced back to 1934 when Roy Irvin Stubblefield designed a “cap for drinking glasses”. Created with small children in mind, the cap was mainly intended for cold beverages. It could be attached to the top of a drinking glass and had a small slit on the top.

Then, in 1950, the first snap-on lid was introduced to the market. However, this lid only served to cover the glass, as there was no drinking port. The 1960s introduced a takeaway coffee cup lid with a small tab that could be peeled away, creating a hole for consumers to drink from. This design was adapted in 1984, making it easier for consumers to sip from without spilling. The redesign boasted a protruding edge around the lid, allowing the liquid inside to cool slightly before reaching the customers’ lips. This lid design is the basis for the ones used today.

In today’s world of instant access and fast-paced lifestyles, convenience is a priority for several consumers. Notably, a recent survey found over 50% of respondents believe convenience influenced at least half of their purchasing decisions. This is clear in the growing popularity of delivery services, such as Amazon Prime, and in the rise of streaming services.

Takeaway cup lids can help roasters and coffee shops cater to convenience as they allow consumers to drink on the go while retaining the beverage’s heat and minimising spills. An important consideration for your business may be whether each takeaway drink actually needs a lid. To an extent, this should depend on consumer preferences. Therefore, it may be helpful for your baristas to ask customers whether they would like a lid, rather than providing one as a standard.

For example, espressos are usually enjoyed within minutes of them being served, and so many customers may forgo a cup lid. Another consideration is that some coffee shops pride themselves on their latte art. In this case, the barista may feel more confident handing over their coffee without a lid so the customer can take note of the design. 

Overall, it comes down to customer preference. Regardless, offering environmentally friendly coffee lids can help widen a coffee brand’s target market, as more eco-conscious consumers will be drawn to the use of sustainable materials, helping to improve brand awareness and increase sales.

An image of two takeaway coffee cups, one with no cup lid, one with a pull back sipper lid, in an article on whether takeaway coffee cup lids are recyclable

Are takeaway coffee cup lids recyclable?

As food and beverage industries move away from traditional plastic packaging, coffee cup lids are now being made from multiple materials, some of which can be recycled.

Recyclable plastics

The majority of coffee cup lids are made from polystyrene or recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET). Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic, whereas polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a polymer resin of the polyester family. However, plastic coffee lids contribute to single-use plastic pollution, which has increased the demand for more sustainable and recyclable alternative materials.

While both polystyrene and rPET cup lids are recyclable, polystyrene can be a costly and difficult material to repurpose, so they are usually discarded with general waste and end up in landfills. 

Recycled paper

Paper is compostable and recyclable material, making it suitable for companies wishing to promote a sustainable lifestyle. These cup lids are usually made from recycled kraft paper, bagasse paper, or bamboo fibre, which can be sealed with a bio-based or recyclable coating, such as polylactic acid (PLA), to prevent spills and leaks. More so, these lids can be used for both hot and cold offerings.  

Pulp and fibre

These are compostable and biodegradable options that can be made from bagasse paper, sugarcane, or bamboo fibre. These can also be covered in a recyclable and compostable coating to protect the material from being weakened by the coffee. 

Pulp refers to a soft, wet, and shapeless mass of material that is typically used in the manufacturing of paper and other paper products. Traditionally, the pulp is made by breaking down the cellulose fibres of plants. It is then dried in sheets and prepared for manufacture and printing.

An image of a barista preparing two takeaway coffee cups with sipper lids, recyclable cup lids, in an article on whether takeaway coffee cup lids are recyclable

What sustainable alternatives can coffee businesses use?

As well as using sustainable materials for coffee cup lids, businesses can look to increase their sustainability credentials by investing in sustainable takeaway cups – something consumers have shown a preference for.

Compostable cups can be made from natural materials such as kraft paper and recycled paper. These cups are usually lined with PLA to prevent leaks and spills. Recyclable materials used for takeaway coffee cups include bioplastics such as PLA, bamboo fibre, kraft paper, and rPET. It is advisable to use sustainable lids alongside eco-friendly takeaway coffee cups to ease the compostable or recycling process and further implement a sustainable and eco-friendly persona.

Bag and cup holders

Takeaway bags and cup holders can be highly effective when considering the ease of consumer convenience. These are especially useful for customers ordering multiple coffees, such as those ordering for a business meeting in the office, or for coffee shops that also sell food. This being the case, investing in paper bags as a recyclable and sustainable alternative to plastic bags is recommended for businesses. 

It is important to ensure the handles are sturdy and they should not be over-packed, in case they break. Cup holders can be made from pulp, created from waste paper or cornstarch, making them recyclable and compostable, and sturdy enough to hold multiple cups. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer coffee roasters, cafes, and other businesses a variety of coffee cup lids, including the varieties listed above. Additionally, we stock a range of SensoryLids, which are specifically designed so customers can enjoy the full aroma of your takeaway coffee without spillages. Our SensoryLid was designed with the help of cupping experts and barista champions and allows consumers to continue receiving the coffee’s aroma thanks to an innovative sensory hole.

Our range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups is made from recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre, PET, or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA lining and are available in different sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz. Our takeaway coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable, and can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo or recycling instructions.

For more information on sustainable cup lids for coffee and cold beverages, contact our team.

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Hayley Osbourne
Hayley Osbourne

Hayley is a writer for MTPak Coffee and is very passionate about her craft.

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