Which lids are best for takeaway coffee cups?

Janice Kanniah
February 2, 2024
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While they may seem inconsequential, takeaway cup lids have shaped the way millions of people consume coffee. Lids are provided with almost every takeaway coffee cup and are an essential item for every coffee shop and roastery. 

Over time, coffee cup lids have evolved to provide other functionalities, such as retaining heat and aroma. Beyond this, they can now be made using sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. This is particularly important, as several reports state 81% of consumers expect brands to use sustainable packaging materials.

So, how can business owners choose the best lids for takeaway coffee cups while ensuring their choice remains sustainable? 

I spoke to Dr. Robert Crocker, a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia, and Lyn Mayes is the Scheme Manager of New Zealand’s Packaging Forum, to learn how brands can get it right. 

Why are disposable coffee cups and lids still important in today’s cafés?

Reports show that in 2023, the global takeaway coffee market was worth a staggering $39,6 billion. It’s also showing no signs of slowing down, and as people return to the office, we can expect out-of-home coffee consumption to increase. 

Dr. Robert Crocker is a researcher and lecturer currently focused on implementing a circular economy. He has a particular interest in the role design can play in furthering circularity and more sustainable forms of consumption. 

He explains that disposable cups and lids remain popular despite reusable cups becoming more widely available. Lifestyles remain busy, and cafés generate more income by offering takeaway drinks than seated ones. “Cafés can make twice as much money from coffee with takeaway options, as they don’t need to provide seating or accommodation to those who just come in and out,” he adds. “It’s useful for mobile workers who literally cannot stop.” 

“Encouraging customers to bring their own mug is gaining in popularity but isn’t always practical,” he adds. “It can become complicated if the cup hasn’t been washed properly, which happens. Also, many fast-food establishments won’t accept customers bringing their own reusable cups and lids because of hygiene worries. This was a widespread concern during Covid-19,” he says.

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What types of takeaway coffee cup lids are available? 

Robert explains that while many businesses offer paper cups to customers, the lids are often made of plastic. “As most lids are made from different materials to the cup, recycling can be difficult.”

“Lids are often disposed of along with the cup, and most lids are not recyclable at present, which is a problem. Beyond this, the standard cup, made of plastic and paper fused together, is not easily recycled. Typically, the lid is made from another type of  recyclable plastic.”

Many brands have transitioned to takeaway coffee cups and lids made from bioplastics, which are compostable while retaining their ability to hold hot liquids. Polylactic acid (PLA), for example, is a popular alternative to plastic, as it is derived from plant-based compostable polymers. 

Robert recommends brands investigate using bioplastic coffee cups and lids as they sufficiently insulate drinks without compromising on sustainability. However, a possible drawback to using PLA lids is the material isn’t always suitable for all businesses. PLA requires industrial composting to break down, which is unavailable in many cities. 

Lyn Mayes is the Scheme Manager of New Zealand’s Packaging Forum, an organisation that helps local businesses find sustainable packaging options. She explains that takeaway coffee cup lids made from PLA cannot be composted in certified organic facilities in the region. 

“Additionally, polystyrene cups and lids, basically all polystyrene takeaway food and drink packaging, has been banned in New Zealand since June 2022.” she says. “From 1 February 2024, no lids, plastic or metal, will be collected at the curbside for recycling.”

Several governments around the world have implemented similar packaging restrictions. Therefore, brands will have to keep collection and processing front of mind when considering materials for takeaway coffee cups and lids. 

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Choosing the right takeaway coffee cup lids

It’s important to note that disposable coffee cups made from bioplastics can only be composted if they’re collected without contamination. Also, they must be processed in a facility that offers industrial composting. 

If municipal collection and disposal collection services are unavailable locally, Robert recommends “getting a recycling or composting bin system at the same time as you purchase your cups and lids, so you have a waste solution for customers. Otherwise, they’re forced to take on the responsibility themselves.” 

A recent survey on customer recycling behaviour reveals 62% dispose of their takeaway coffee cups and lids incorrectly. This could contaminate different waste streams, rendering the materials useless and unfit for recycling or composting. 

“The goal should be to make disposal and recycling easy for the customer, not to outsource the problem to them or the city authorities who handle the waste,” Robert says. “Some business managers understand this and choose cups and lids made from the same materials. These can be put into the green bin outside the café and encourage their clients to dispose of them this way.”

Every coffee business has the potential to help stem the tide of packaging waste by ensuring the lids they offer customers don’t contribute to the crisis. As Robert says, “Waste is a worldwide crisis, and much of it begins in the systems of consumption we have in place, especially food packaging. We need to make all waste ‘reusable’, or at least compostable and also try to better match supply and demand.”

MTPak Coffee can provide your business with customisable and branded compostable cups and lids. We can also help you find options that work around any collection and processing limitations that exist in your area. 

We provide specialty roasters around the world with a range of compostable takeaway coffee cups that are made from recycled kraft paper and lined with polylactic acid (PLA). Our range includes double or single wall cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves.

Our takeaway coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and are available in the following size: 4 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, 16 oz, 18 oz, 22 oz, and 24 oz.

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

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