Do your takeaway coffee cups contain forever chemicals?

Jane Merchant
May 26, 2023
An image of a takeaway coffee cup with filtered black specialty coffee in an article on PFAS chemicals in takeaway coffee cups and whether takeaway coffee cups contain forever chemicals

Statistics show beverage packaging makes up almost 90% of the total packaging market, and at least 63% of this comprises flexible packaging items, such as takeaway coffee cups. Several types of retailers, including café owners, often purchase these disposable cups. That said, customer preferences are always evolving along with their tastes. As a result, more customers are demanding eco-friendly or sustainable product packaging – with many governments making this a legal requirement to combat packaging pollution

A growing number of customers realise items that have a negative effect on the earth may also be detrimental to their health. As knowledge of the pitfalls of packaging materials increases, so does the understanding of its health consequences. Nanoplastics, which are plastic particles under 100 nanometers in size, are becoming part of the food supply, increasing the likelihood of animals and humans ingesting them.

These nanoplastics contain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS chemicals, which never break down and are often referred to as forever chemicals. Packaging manufacturers may use these chemicals to line takeaway coffee cups in order to make them waterproof, despite the possibility of them being toxic for consumption. 

As a café owner or roaster, how can tell if your takeaway coffee cups contain forever chemicals, and what alternatives do you have?

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What are PFAS chemicals?

During the 1950s, multinational conglomerate 3M first pioneered the use of PFAS chemicals to make various items water and oil-proof. Over 9,000 of these synthetic chemicals have been identified to date and can be found in everyday products such as nonstick pans and stain-resistant clothing. 

PFAS chemicals feature tough linked chains that are almost impossible to degrade. More so, they are invisible to the naked eye and can leach into soil, water, and air. It is also believed these chemicals could accumulate in the human body, possibly worsening or creating metabolic, fertility, and immune-related issues. Notably, no illness has been directly linked to these chemicals directly, this may change with increased research and technological advancements.

Several studies show customers often make decisions based on emotion over logic. For instance, many businesses switched to using single-use takeaway cups at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and perceived them to be safer than reusable ones – despite the science saying otherwise. Several coffee brands assume using compostable packaging and takeaway cups helps avoid the use of these chemicals. However, studies show the polymeric PFAS chemicals that make some disposable coffee cups water and heat-resistant can contaminate the coffee inside.

Notably, the EU plan to ban thousands of PFAS chemicals from the market by 2030, with more specific restrictions set to come into place as we learn more about their effects. Even if your business is based in a country that is yet to impose a ban, making the change now will ensure you remain compliant before you have to. 

An image of a barista holding several takeaway coffee cups in an article on PFAS chemicals in takeaway coffee cups and whether takeaway coffee cups contain forever chemicals

Do your takeaway cups contain forever chemicals?

While research into the impact of PFAS chemicals on the planet and human health is ongoing, many customers will be paying attention to it in the upcoming years. As several moulded fibre compostable takeaway cups could contain harmful PFAS chemicals, it is important for cafe owners and roasters to know whether their cups do, too. The best way to address these concerns is by being as transparent as possible. This means knowing where your packaging comes from and what has gone into it. 

One way to do this is by choosing compostable food packaging that is certified by organisations such as the Biodegradable Product Institute, the Centre for Environmental Health, Greenscreen, Greenseal, or Safer Choice. It also means choosing packaging that can be collected responsibly and processed in an industrial facility. Notably, PFAS chemicals can be destroyed at high temperatures, but this must be done under controlled conditions in a contained vessel. 

It is important for café owners and roasters to partner with a packaging manufacturer that is transparent about what goes into the takeaway cups, as currently, businesses have few legal requirements to disclose the cup ingredients, the volume of chemicals used, or if the product is compostable. 

The most effective way to ensure you are offering consumers PFAS-free compostable cups is to work with a trustworthy supplier. While you may be unable to make the switch immediately, you can communicate your awareness of the issue and what steps you are taking to address it. Customers will recognise this and appreciate it. 

An image of various takeaway coffee cups of different sizes in an article on PFAS chemicals in takeaway coffee cups and whether takeaway coffee cups contain forever chemicals

Addressing and reducing your risk 

Notably, business owners have several ways they can address and reduce the risk of exposing customers to potentially harmful chemicals, such as PFAS. For instance, some brands could allow the use of reusable cups. Encouraging customers to bring reusable cups can reduce costs for both the business and the consumer. Customers benefit from paying less for a cup of coffee, while the business benefits from using fewer disposable cups. This also empowers customers, making them feel they are taking direct action to curb pollution. 

Alternatively, if the takeaway cups require special collection and processing, this information should be shared with consumers. Or, the business can arrange to collect used cups by stationing a dedicated collection bin., while staff can explain why consumers should place their cups here. Most importantly, your business should be transparent. If you offer a specific type of takeaway cup. you should be able to address any concerns customers may have about it. As it may be challenging to switch to completely PFAS-free cups or test them for safety, you can focus on telling them what steps you are taking, and the challenges of making the switch, which includes a lack of industry transparency or access to resources.

As a business offering consumers cups on a daily basis, the risk of PFAS chemicals is something you can’t ignore. Now you know the level of risk it could face, you can make more informed choices or take active steps to do so. If you aren’t sure where to begin or have questions you need answered about your choice of takeaway cups, MTPak Coffee can help. 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. 

More so, our takeaway coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% certified compostable, and can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo or recycling instructions. Our use of digital printing allows us to offer customers a 40 hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time. This allows us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable takeaway cups, contact our team

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