Understanding the benefits of disposable coffee cups

Sam Shipiti
March 20, 2024
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Each year, the value of the coffee shop market grows, which shows demand for coffee is only increasing. Of the many factors fuelling this growth, the trend of takeaway coffee takes a reasonable share. Notably, research suggests the takeaway coffee market will reach $60,980.6 million by 2033. 

In turn, this means the number of cafes and coffee roasters investing in disposable coffee cups is likely to increase. Takeaway coffee cups have had their fair share of controversies, especially around sustainability. However, the undeniable benefits of these items continue to make them a popular choice for both businesses and consumers. 

To gain a deeper understanding of the benefits of disposable coffee cups, I spoke to Devin Masters, the co-owner of Luma Coffee Roasters in Hammond, Louisiana.  

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What are disposable coffee cups made from? 

To-go cups made of paper date back to the early 20th century and were introduced to replace shared drinking vessels in communal spaces. Soon, takeaway cups flooded the market, and during the 1960s, polystyrene cups surfaced. Within two decades, they were the go-to option for takeaway coffee.

However, environmental concerns around single-use cups made from styrofoam and plastics have increased in recent years. As a result, several sustainable alternatives, such as those that are recyclable or compostable, have become available.  

Luma Coffee Roasters offers two takeaway coffee cup sizes, using different materials for hot and cold beverages. “Both cold options are made from recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic and come with a sip-through PET lid,” Devin explains. “The hot options are made of paper and come with a black foam aroma lid that is also made of plastic.”

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How eco-friendly can disposable coffee cups be?

Around 500 billion plastic takeaway cups are used annually worldwide, with only a small percentage being recycled. For instance, in the UK, only one out of every 400 plastic cups is recycled. In the US, 80% of all polystyrene produced ends up in landfills, and in Australia, takeaway coffee cups rank second only to plastic bottles in littering the environment.

These findings illustrate a strong need to address the waste problem stemming from single-use packaging. Granted, there’s a reasonable number of cafes and coffee roasters making strides in recycling and adopting sustainable packaging, but a broader industry shift is needed to truly make a difference. 

“We use as many compostable materials as we can in our to-go products,” says Devin, while suggesting that there’s room to make recycling better. “One area I think could be improved is having an optional recycling bin in the shop,” he explains, adding that PET plastic is nearly infinitely recyclable. “Just having that option available in shops around the world would make a huge impact.”

Studies show many recycling programmes struggle to process petroleum-based plastics and paper cups lined with polyethylene or wax. However, suitable coating alternatives have emerged, with properties that make them just as capable as their unrecyclable counterparts. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a great example: a bioplastic that can be composted at home or in specialised facilities. 

Cup accessories like lids, straws, and stirrers also come in various materials, some of which are difficult–if not impossible–to recycle. Notably, several governments are imposing bans on plastic straws and stirrers. Therefore, alternatives made from paper, wood, and bagasse have become more popular. 

Luma Coffee Roasters use “sip-through lids to cut down on straw use,” Devin explains. Additionally, as the takeaway coffee cups themselves are a thinner plastic, he adds that “they introduce less overall plastic into landfills if they aren’t recycled.”

To further reduce unnecessary waste, Luma Coffee offers discounts to customers who bring in reusable cups. “We have quite a few regulars that use this discount consistently,” Devin notes. 

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What are the benefits of investing in disposable coffee cups?

While the popularity of beverages such as cold brew coffee has increased, it’s not the only beverage fuelling demand for takeaway coffee cups. The hot coffee segment is also keeping pace with the overall growth of the coffee market. Investing in these cups ultimately equips a business to stay on top of this trend.

Beyond this, consumers’ busy lifestyles have ignited a demand for convenience across the board. A growing number of customers are seeking everything from grab-and-go meals to disposable packaging solutions. In an article for Euromonitor International, consulting manager João Garcia says, “Convenience is now a critical factor influencing consumption and spending decisions.”

Devin weighs in on the convenience factor, noting that “the main benefit of disposable cups is being able to [have a drink] on the go.” For example, Luma Coffee’s seating is limited to around 50 patrons, and the venue is often full. Therefore, Devin emphasises that not having the option for consumers to take drinks away would be detrimental to the business.

He explains, “We would have to shift the way we do a lot of things to make that work,” while admitting that having a to-go option for beverages is definitely more sustainable and economical.

Takeaway cups could also serve as part of brand marketing. That said, success with this heavily depends on the quality of customisation, as research shows that visual elements heavily influence consumer behaviour. Brands want a logo and message that will leave a lasting impression on consumers and onlookers who are unfamiliar with the company. 

Devin concludes by advising cafe owners and coffee roasters to “talk to their patrons and get ideas on how to make their takeaway coffee cup options better. Often, people have genuinely good ideas for the space that they love coming to.” Based on his experience, he reveals that most people want to help. “People want to invest and buy into something bigger than themselves, and something like sustainability is important to a lot of people.”

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.

Images courtesy of Luma Coffee Roasters

For more information on bespoke and sustainable disposable coffee cups, contact our team

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