Common sustainable materials used to make takeaway coffee cups

Hayley Osbourne
June 9, 2023
An image of a specialty coffee barista holding takeaway coffee cups and takeaway coffee cup lids in an article on sustainable materials used to make takeaway coffee cups

The world is producing twice as much plastic as it was two decades ago, despite the percentage that is recycled remaining at 9%. In 2019 alone, at least 6.1 million tonnes of plastic waste leaked into aquatic environments while 1.7 million tonnes went into the ocean. One study found 1557 species, including many which are endangered, have ingested plastic.

Single-use plastics are a driving force behind the current plastic crisis. According to Clean Water Action, the US alone disposes of around 130 billion single-use takeaway coffee cups a year. Unfortunately, not all plastics can be recycled due to the materials from which they are made and the financial barriers around the process.

This has led to increased consumer demand for sustainable materials to replace plastic packaging. As of January 2023, the percentage of consumers demanding eco-friendly materials has risen to 81%. Specialty coffee roasters will have to keep this in mind when re-ordering items such as takeaway cups, as unsustainable materials may deter customers.

So, which sustainable materials are used to make eco-friendly takeaway coffee cups? And how can roasters ensure they are disposed of properly?

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How the world’s perception of takeaway cups has shifted

Traditionally, single-use items such as takeaway coffee cups were made of two primary material options: paper or polystyrene. Polystyrene is extremely cost-effective, sturdy, and water-resistant which means it can hold liquids for a long time. However, polystyrene cannot be recyclable, and it is highly like to leach chemicals if left to biodegrade. Furthermore, polystyrene manufacturing creates hazardous waste.

Recent studies show 73% of UK consumers say paper or cardboard packaging is important to them when considering a brand’s level of sustainability. Furthermore, 49% of consumers said they would pay more for both sustainable packaging and sustainable delivery options.

In another study from February 2023, consumers say paper is the most environmentally friendly option. Therefore, it is clear consumers have a higher preference for eco-friendly materials. Paper is a recyclable material that appears to be a strong preference for customers. It is easy to recycle, customise, and it is biodegradable. However, paper tends to disintegrate when wet.

While it may be a good option for some food packaging, it may not be the most effective choice for takeaway coffee cups. Unlined paper cups can lead to a loss of product quality for the consumer and potential burns from leaks and spills.

An image of kraft paper takeaway coffee cups, custom-printed takeaway coffee cups, customised cofee cups, in an article on sustainable materials used to make takeaway coffee cups

The sustainable materials used to make takeaway cups

Bagasse paper

Bagasse paper, also known as sugarcane pulp, is a fibrous material that is often left behind after the sugarcane harvesting process. It is stronger and more durable than styrofoam, making it a safe alternative for consumers. Additionally, bagasse paper is heat resistant and lightweight, which helps lower shipping costs for roasters. More importantly, it is biodegradable and compostable. 

Investing in takeaway coffee cups made from bagasse paper can also help lower a roaster’s carbon footprint. This is because the manufacturing process creates significantly less carbon dioxide than other packaging materials.

It is important to note bagasse paper is only compostable at commercial industrial sites. If properly disposed of at a commercial compostable site, bagasse paper will biodegrade within 30 to 90 days. Therefore, takeaway cups made from this material must be disposed of properly. This is something many consumers may be unaware of, so it is up to roasters to provide instructions on how the cups can be recycled.

White cardboard

These cups provide heat insulation, providing the consumer with an overall better drinking experience. They are usually made from high food-grade cardboard, making them a recyclable and compostable option. Takeaway coffee cups made from white cardboard can be customised and are sturdy enough to hold hot drinks without disintegrating.

Corrugated paper

Takeaway coffee cups made from corrugated cardboard usually comprise kraft paper. Kraft paper appeals to several consumers due to its sustainability. Its appeal to roasters lies in its durability and ability to retain heat. The corrugated paper also adds a bit more depth to the sleeve and provides more insulation, preventing any potential burns. 

Kraft paper is one of the most affordable materials, and these cups can compost within a month. However, roasters are advised to check the lining is also recyclable and compostable. 

An image of custom-printed takeaway coffee cups, takeaway cups, customised takeaway coffee cups in an article on sustainable materials used to make takeaway coffee cups

How can roasters customise sustainable takeaway cups?

First, roasters must ensure the materials can be customised. For instance, customising corrugated paper could make printed words or pictures look distorted. This may come across as cheap and amateur compared to custom printing on kraft paper or white cardboard. Furthermore, it is recommended roasters use sustainable custom printing techniques, such as water-based inks. Doing this will not affect consumers’ ability to recycle or compost takeaway coffee cups. 

Customising cup sleeves may be a more cost-effective option for several roasters. The sleeve’s smooth surface is easier to print on. While the area of customisation is slightly limited, this can help reduce printing costs for the roaster.

Again, if using coffee cup sleeves as part of a marketing strategy, roasters are advised to use sustainable materials. This can attract more eco-friendly customers and improves sales. Furthermore, it can help improve the roaster’s carbon footprint and align them with ethics that benefit the ecosystem and animal life.

Custom-printed coffee cups and coffee cup sleeves are an important way to reach new customers. Consumers tend to share their experiences on social media and customised coffee cups that are ‘Instagrammable’ is a big trend. Couple this with the materials being eco-friendly, and a roaster has a higher chance of increasing their sales.

MTPak Coffee offers a range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups made from recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre, PET, or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA lining. Our cups are available in four 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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Hayley Osbourne
Hayley Osbourne

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

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