What are takeaway coffee cup lids made of?

Hayley Osbourne
June 30, 2023
An image of two coffee consumers holding takeaway coffee cups with coffee cup lids in an article on what takeaway coffee cup lids are made of

While they may seem like mundane objects that often accompany to-go beverages, takeaway cup lids have shaped the way millions of people consume coffee. As society became increasingly mobile, so did our drinking habits. Therefore, coffee cup lids were designed to help consumers drink coffee on the go – specifically during their daily commute.

However, the majority of single-use cups, lids, sleeves, and stirrers compromise Styrofoam, polyethylene (PE), or polypropylene (PP), which are sent straight to landfills. As there are 50 million takeaway coffee cups discarded annually in the US alone, the demand for sustainable alternatives has increased.

Therefore, in order for coffee brands to expand, it is clear they must make sustainable packaging a priority, and that includes takeaway cup lids. Understanding which materials are used to make takeaway coffee cup lids can help businesses make informed decisions. 

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Is the demand for takeaway cup lids declining?

Cup lids have been a standard offering with takeaway beverages for decades, as they have several benefits. First, cup lids help prevent leaks and spills while on the go. Second, the aromatics released by freshly brewed coffee are among the most volatile organic compounds inherent in the process.

How scent affects a consumer’s interpretation of a coffee’s taste is one of the key factors in their enjoyment of the beverage. Placing lids on takeaway coffee cups can prevent these aromatics from dissipating into the atmosphere before customers can enjoy them. 

Alternatively, lids can help lock the aromas away while drinking. Modern innovations in lid design allow for chambers in the headspace above the hot liquid to direct fragrant compounds to consumers’ olfactory centres. Third, a lid on a takeaway coffee cup can be an effective method for heat retention for those who drink their coffee slowly. 

That said, there is some debate about whether all coffee beverages require a lid. Larger takeaway orders, such as lattes, cappuccinos and mochas, are often served with cup lids as their liquid content is quite high, increasing the risk of spills. On the other hand, many espresso drinkers are likely to let their shot cool to a suitable temperature before drinking – which is unlikely to take long because of the drinks’ lower volume. Therefore, it would be fair to expect that most small-volume drinks may not need lids.

Some coffee shops have stopped providing single-use items, such as takeaway cup lids, serviettes, straws, and stirrers, as a standard. Now, consumers must ask for them instead. Notably, a recent study found offering these items as a default option may increase usage and waste. Asking consumers if they need a lid for their beverage may lead to less wasteful consumption.

An image of a barista, coffee roasters, putting a takeaway cup lid on a cup of cold brew coffee, takeaway cold brew coffee, plastic takeaway lids, takeaway cup lids, in an article on what takeaway coffee cup lids are made of

The “problem” with takeaway coffee cup lids

Significant strides have been made to make cups recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable. However, the lid has always been a plastic necessity the coffee industry seems unable to shake. 

Typically, takeaway coffee cup lids are made from polypropylene (PP) or polystyrene #6, a petroleum-based plastic that is difficult to recycle. More so, research shows when heated, polystyrene is found to leach a neurotoxin and human carcinogen known as styrene.

When consumers dispose of coffee cups with lids attached, the components have to be separated before they can be processed in separate recycling streams. This means cup lids often end up in landfills, adding to the plastic pollution crisis.

To reduce single-use items, foldable cups or “butterfly cups” have recently entered the packaging market. These are predominantly made from compostable or biodegradable materials, with the lid forming part of the overall construction of the cup. The design uses two paper flaps that fold on top of one another to form a seal and spout from which the consumer can drink.

An image of a coffee consumer drinking takeaway coffee from a takeaway coffee cup with a lid, coffee cup lid, sustainable takeaway coffee cup lids, in an article on what takeaway coffee cup lids are made of

What are sustainable takeaway coffee cup lids made of?

Sustainability is still a priority within the specialty coffee industry. From packaging to the waste created during processing and roasting, those in the sector are always looking for more sustainable practices. In addition to investing in sustainable takeaway cups, several establishments are lids made from eco-friendly materials. 

Recyclable materials

Recyclable materials often used for takeaway coffee cups include bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), bamboo fibre, kraft paper, and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

PLA is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. The fermentation produces resin filaments that have similar characteristics to petroleum-based plastic. It is toxin-free, which has made it popular in the food and beverage industry where it is commonly used to package a wide variety of items, including coffee.

rPET is created by recycling plastics that were previously used as packaging materials, such as plastic bottles. Once collected, they are sorted, cleaned and made into rPET, which can be used to create new packaging.

Pulp and fibre

Takeaway cup lids made from materials such as bagasse paper, bamboo fibre or sugarcane are affordable biodegradable and compostable options. The pulp used to make the lids is made by breaking down the cellular fibres in plants. These fibres are then dried in sheets and prepared for moulding. The lids can also be coated in a PLA lining to protect the material from weakening as consumers sip from them. 

Sustainability will continue to play a large role in guiding the development of the packaging industry. Therefore, it is essential for manufacturers, roasters, and cafe owners to invest in coffee cup lids that appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. At MTPak Coffee, we understand the importance of providing sustainable solutions for specialty coffee roasters. We offer fully sustainable coffee cups – from our SensoryLid to the sleeve – to meet all your needs.

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. Additionally, 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 takeaway coffee cup lids, contact our team.

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