As coffee culture has evolved, requirements and expectations for takeaway cups and lids have changed. Takeaway cup lids are specifically designed to prevent spills while consumers are on the move. Over time, they’ve evolved to provide comfort, ease of use, and other functionalities, such as retaining heat and aroma.
However, research shows that over 16 billion disposable cups are used every year. These are often paired with takeaway cup lids made of plastic, polypropylene, or polystyrene. If the lids and cups are not separated before disposal, it is likely both will end up in landfills – even if the cup is fully recyclable.
While eco-friendly alternatives are available, a recent survey found over half of 5,000 consumers say they’re confused over which materials are recyclable. More so, 42% of those who are unsure about recyclability simply take a guess. This means that items are placed in recycling containers where they may contaminate the recycling stream.
In light of the growing plastic waste crisis, should cup lids be a standard accessory with every takeaway coffee, or should cafes make them optional?
Could making takeaway cup lids optional reduce waste?
A recent study by Nestlé found nine out of ten consumers drink coffee on the go, usually while on their way to work. Another study found 90% of customers are likely to choose a retailer or brand based on convenience alone. Therefore, takeaway coffee cups have always come with a lid to make drinking on the go more convenient for customers.
Notably, there can be several benefits to offering lids. First, takeaway cup lids can help keep scalding hot liquids out of consumers’ laps. Second, the aromatics released by freshly brewed coffee are among the most volatile organic compounds inherent in the process. The way in which scent impacts a consumer’s interpretation of a coffee’s taste is one of the key factors in their enjoyment of the beverage.
Lids on takeaway coffee cups can prevent these volatile aromatics from dissipating into the atmosphere before customers can get their nostrils around them. Alternatively, they can 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.
However, it is important to note that not every coffee order necessarily requires a lid. Many espresso drinkers, for instance, are likely to let their shot cool before drinking it in a relatively short time frame due to its low volume. Therefore, it would be fair to expect that most small-volume drinks may not need a lid.
Some coffee shops are hoping to do away with lids altogether. With environmental concerns considered, this may be the future. For example, many cafes and restaurants have stopped providing single-use items such as serviettes, straws, and cup lids, as a standard, making customers ask for them instead.
Interestingly, a study conducted at Cornell University found offering these items as a default option may increase usage and waste. Alternatively, asking consumers if they need a lid for their coffee cup may lead to less wasteful consumption.
Sustainable takeaway cup options
As food and beverage industries move away from traditional plastic packaging, coffee cup lids are now being made from multiple materials, many of which can be recycled.
Paper is a 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. These are often 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.
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.
Should cafes offer lids with each of their takeaway orders?
Businesses that are unable to invest in sustainable alternatives may want to consider going without lids until they can. This can help mitigate any backlash from eco-conscious consumers.
That said, to an extent, offering cups with takeaway orders will depend on consumer preferences. Therefore, it may be helpful for baristas to ask customers whether they would like a lid, rather than providing one as a standard. This can help prevent unnecessary waste and promote sustainable purchasing habits.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer roasters and coffee shop owners 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.
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.