How disposable coffee cups save your business money

Maira Kanai-Nasir
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March 15, 2024
disposable coffee cups, coffee cups, takeaway coffee cups, custom printed coffee cups, to go cups, eco friendly coffee cups, To The Moon And Back

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, reusable cups made of glass, steel, and bamboo fibre were commonplace in the coffee industry. Introduced to customers in 2007, reusable cups are designed to be used repeatedly to reduce waste. 

While reusable cups have certainly helped lessen the amount of single-use plastic waste, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. To make reusable cups, a larger amount of energy and material is needed – and this does not account for the resources needed to wash reusable cups repeatedly.

With all things considered, investing in disposable coffee cups made from sustainable materials could actually save businesses money. 

To learn more, I spoke to Michael Overcash, Chief Executive Officer at Environmental Genome Initiative, and Zainab Al Mousawi, the owner and founder of To The Moon and Back in Dubai 

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Are reusable coffee cups environmentally friendly?

The design and ergonomics of reusable coffee cups often mimic those of single-use takeaway cups. Typically, reusable cups are made from recyclable plastics, bamboo fibre, or glass, while some more premium products feature stainless steel. These materials are usually chosen for their sustainability and high level of thermal insulation.

Specifically, reusable cups are designed to have a significantly extended lifespan compared to disposable coffee cups, encouraging customers to continue using them. Customers can buy or bring reusable cups to cafes to prevent almost immediately paying for and binning a single-use cup. 

Michael was a corresponding author on a research paper titled: “Comparing reusable to disposable products: Life cycle analysis metrics”. 

“From an environmental point of view, we learned that reusable [cups] seem to have an advantage primarily because they get used for [numerous] cycles,” he explains. While reusable coffee cups certainly have their advantages, there are several operational inconveniences for baristas. 

The problem with reusable coffee cups

One issue is cup size. The majority of reusable cups come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from tumbles to bottles. This often leaves baristas in a difficult position, as they must still serve beverages in standard volume. In turn, this can leave consumers feeling as if they’re not getting a “full” order. 

Beyond this, the materials used to make reusable cups may alter the taste of the coffee, putting brands at risk of gaining a bad reputation. Furthermore, as takeaway coffee is often an impulse buy, many consumers find carrying a reusable cup inconvenient – particularly as they must wash it after each use.

As a result, many customers expect baristas to wash the cups, which can raise hygiene concerns. “I believe that cross-contamination can happen when washing cups during busier times,” explains Emirati ­entrepreneur, Zainab. “So, it’s often safer and cleaner to use disposable coffee cups.” 

Similarly, Michael adds that establishments will need washing stations: a configuration which may not be suitable for all venues. Cleaning reusable cups requires hot water, detergents, and labour. Furthermore, research shows that reusable options must be used between 20 and 100 times to create fewer emissions than disposable coffee cups. 

disposable coffee cups, coffee cups, takeaway coffee cups, custom printed coffee cups, to go cups, eco friendly coffee cups, To The Moon And Back

How can disposable coffee cups save money?

Compared to washing reusable options, which use water and energy, disposable coffee cups can be less resource-intensive. Disposable coffee cups don’t need cleaning or much maintenance. This is highly advantageous as larger business expenses include rent, electricity, and water

“Having to save on water and electricity may only be an issue if there’s a high volume of customers,” Zainab says. “Or, when the majority of customers bring in their own cups during rush hours. Overall, disposable coffee cups can be more cost-effective.” 

Disposable coffee cups also take up less space. They’re available in industry standard sizes, making them easy to stack and store in small cupboards or under counters. 

Admittedly, there are several pros – and cons – for reusable cups. However, to discover which is best for your business, Michael says “you have to get the information on both kinds of products. Not just how they’re made, but the reusability, how often they are cycled. There are aspects of the use phase that have environmental footprints to them and the end of life [of that product]. 

Zainab adds that it can depend on materials. “What are the tumblers made from, and how are they produced? How are they disposed of at the end of their lifecycle?” she asks. “For example, I would encourage reusable cups made from sustainable materials like glass, stainless steel, or BPA-free plastics. Proper care and maintenance, as well as recycling or proper disposal at the end of their life, also contribute to their overall environmental impact.”

Reduced marketing costs

Another benefit to disposable coffee cups is that they can be fully customised to increase brand exposure. A custom printed coffee cup is essentially a free advertisement for any coffee business – one that can help bring in new customers and sell more coffee. 

A consistent brand style and colour palette across coffee bags and to go cups can ensure consumers recognise the product. This, in turn, helps increase repeat sales and boost profit margins. “[Custom disposable coffee cups] increases brand visibility, Zainab agrees. “It also helps with mouth-to-mouth marketing.” 

She further explains that each year, To The Moon and Back changes the design of its disposable coffee cups. “Every design tells a story of how the brand is doing. For instance, when we got over Covid-19, the design was a ‘thank you’ to our customers for their loyalty and support. This also helped them feel more connected and engaged with our brand,” she adds. 

disposable coffee cups, coffee cups, takeaway coffee cups, custom printed coffee cups, to go cups, eco friendly coffee cups, To The Moon And Back

What to consider when investing in disposable coffee cups

Brands have several factors to consider when investing in disposable coffee cups, with the most significant being materials. It’s important to research what type of waste facilities are available in the region, as this will be the first step in determining which material is best for the cups. 

For instance, Zainab uses biodegradable coffee cups, lids, and straws at To The Moon and Back. “I believe they have many benefits over traditional disposable coffee cups. They have a lower carbon footprint, as they require less energy when produced. And, they’re made of renewable natural resources, which means they break down into natural components when disposed of properly. This reduces the amount of accumulated waste in landfills compared to plastic.”  

At MTPak Coffee, we have the expertise to provide business owners and coffee roasters with disposable coffee cups made from high-quality materials that are kind to the environment. Our range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups is made from biodegradable or recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre, PET, or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA or aqueous lining.

Our takeaway coffee cups are available in the following sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz. Beyond this, our eco-friendly coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable. Beyond this, they can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo, QR codes, or recycling instructions.

Our use of digital printing allows us to offer customers a quick turnaround and shipping time. This allows us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

Images courtesy of To The Moon and Back

For more information on disposable coffee cups, contact our team.

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Maira Kanai-Nasir
Maira Kanai-Nasir

Discovering specialty coffee whilst working in Australia, Maira has previously worked in Specialty Coffee as a trainer and coffee product buyer for many years. She currently resides in Dubai, UAE working as a specialty coffee writer, with a strong passion for all things coffee.

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