Double cupping: How can coffee shops avoid it?

Jane Merchant
September 1, 2023
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At the end of 2019, Dunkin Donuts announced it was doing away with polystyrene cups and its practice of double cupping. This refers to offering customers an additional single-use cup to encase a beverage to provide better insulation.

For years, Dunk Donuts offered customers an additional foam cup to use as a ‘sleeve’ for iced beverages. While double cupping can help insulate a beverage and make it more comfortable for consumers to hold, it contributes to tons of excess packaging waste. 

Excess packaging is one of the most common forms of waste, and interestingly, not all of it is made from plastic. It is estimated that paper accounts for up to a third of all landfill waste. Furthermore, it’s predicted that by 2060, global pulp and paper production will double, contributing to deforestation rates worldwide.

Therefore, even if coffee shops invest in eco-friendly cups, using two for a single takeaway order will neutralise its sustainability efforts. 

To learn more about how coffee shops can avoid double cupping, I spoke with Esther Hope Gibbs, the owner of Hope Espresso.

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Understanding waste in the specialty coffee sector

According to consultancy Environmental Resources Management’s SustainAbility Institute, retailers ‘are in the firing line‘ when it comes to excess packaging. Modern consumers have a tendency to ‘name and shame’ brands with excess packaging.

Within specialty coffee, excess packaging commonly includes shipping materials and disposable paper cups. As they are made using renewable resources, these cups are often considered a suitable alternative to plastic.

However, the majority of paper cups are lined with a thin polyethylene plastic layer. While this coating makes up less than 5% of the total cup, it would be enough to prevent it from being recycled. As a result, these cups often end up polluting landfills and waterways. 

An estimated 600 billion cups are produced and sold every year, with less than 1% being recycled. Beyond this, producing a ton of these cups can take between 9000 to 12000 kg of steam, 960 to 1000 kWh of electrical power, and 50m3 of cooling water.

In addition to creating unnecessary waste, the practice of double cupping can double a coffee shop’s packaging costs. This is because it would need to order more cups, instead of opting for more cost-effective, and fully recyclable cup sleeves.

“One of the main problems with double cupping is obviously waste,” explains Esther, who is also a certified AST and Q Grader. “You’re throwing away an entire cup simply to insulate the beverage better and make it easier for the customer to hold.

“More so, double cupping with single wall cups can become expensive, as you’re essentially doubling the cost of the drink itself. In addition to being wasteful, double cupping also leads to issues with lids attaching correctly, which will lead to spills.” 

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How can coffee shops avoid double cupping?

Single-use paper cups are an affordable, convenient, and hygienic way to serve customers. They are also readily available, unlike reusable cups, which can be inconvenient for consumers to keep clean and carry around every day. 

Therefore, investing in durable single-use cups made from renewable materials can help coffee shops avoid double cupping takeaway orders. 

Cups with an environmentally friendly lining

More so, in recent years, bio-based plastics have become a popular choice for coating takeaway coffee cups and packaging materials. These bioplastics include materials such as polylactic acid (PLA). This is produced by allowing bacteria to ferment natural starches like corn and sugar cane into hydroxy acids.

This coating has proved popular, as it can be applied to cups using existing extrusion equipment. Depending on its additives, weight, and processing conditions, it can be recycled or biodegraded in residential or industrial facilities.

A PLA coating has no odour or aftertaste. Additionally, it is resistant to high temperatures, as well as the fatty acids found in drinks that contain milk. 

While a cup’s specific qualities differ depending on the manufacturer, cup size, and material type, most PLA-coated cups can be broken down in the presence of bacteria and fungi. These metabolise the cup into water, carbon dioxide, and organic compost.

Double wall cups

Alternatively, coffee shops can choose double wall cups over those with a single wall. Double wall cups consist of two layers of material with a thin insulating layer of air between them. This helps to maintain the heat of the coffee by acting as a form of “double glazing”. It also allows consumers to carry it around without the need for an additional sleeve.

Another benefit is their sturdiness. Single wall cups tend to be considerably flimsier, giving way if gripped tightly. Double wall cups are more robust and able to protect the integrity of the product.

“Investing in double wall cups will help insulate your takeaway orders more efficiently,” Esther says. “Plus, the innovative materials used to make double wall cups means that double cupping should be a thing of the past.” 

Cup sleeves

Takeaway cup sleeves are an essential offering for any business selling hot drinks. Lightweight, slim, and cost-effective, their main purpose is to protect customers’ hands from burns when carrying coffee on the go.

The majority of these sleeves are made using Kraft paper, as it is the most economical option. Additionally, this material is recyclable and biodegradable, while providing a clean, sophisticated look and feel. 

“Alternatively, cup sleeves can be branded to reflect the business’ personality,” she adds. “They can help reduce costs and waste while improving the customer experience.”

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Steps to reduce disposable cup waste

In addition to investing in sustainable cups, roasters and coffee shops can implement several strategies to reduce single-use waste. 

  • Understanding the financial implications of double cupping: Coffee shops should determine the financial and environmental impact double cupping practices have. 
  • Determine customer drinking patterns: Understanding customer consumption trends can help coffee shops figure out the number of cups and sleeves required. For example, during peak times, customers are unlikely to have time to fumble for a reusable cup. Therefore, having alternative options available will make their purchase more convenient. 
  • Access to support services and facilities: Curbing cup wastage and pollution will require a more robust collection and processing service. If the local municipality offers this, it may be easier to continue to offer disposable cups that are double-walled or have sleeves as brands can assure they’ll be responsibly recycled. It may be worth partnering with a local cup collection programme to ensure the business has access to the infrastructure required. 

Double cupping is unnecessary in today’s world of streamlined packaging offerings. Additionally, it may alienate customers and generate unnecessary costs for the business. 

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you transition to a better option that suits your budget and your customer’s needs. We offer a range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups made from renewable materials such as recycled kraft paper with an environmentally-friendly PLA lining.

Strong and lightweight, our range of cups is the ideal choice for roasters and coffee shops looking to reduce the impact on the environment and communicate their commitment towards sustainability. Our range includes double or single wall cups, compostable takeaway coffee cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves.

Our recyclable takeaway coffee cups are available in five different sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, 22 oz, and 24 oz. We can also help you fully customise your takeaway coffee cups or coffee cup sleeves with details of your business, allowing you to communicate the cup’s recycling qualities to customers.

Images from Hope Espresso.

For more information on sustainable takeaway coffee cups, contact our team.

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