Single-wall takeaway coffee cups vs double: Which is more sustainable? 

Tori Taylor
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June 17, 2024
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The temperature at which your takeaway coffee is served is critical. It is an essential variable that can have profound effects on a person’s enjoyment of a specialty coffee. Your choice of takeaway cups has the potential to change the way a specialty coffee tastes by retaining its brewing temperature or accelerating its cooling. 

Single-wall takeaway coffee cups made of paper often require a cup sleeve to help retain the drinks’ heat. Alternatively, double-wall takeaway cups are able to do this without the need for any additional packaging. However, these cups require more material to make that thermo-insulating layer. 

So, when it comes to the sustainability of takeaway coffee cups, a key question arises: Which is more eco-friendly? Single-wall takeaway coffee cups or their double-wall alternatives? 

I spoke to Esther Hope Gibbs, the owner of Hope Espresso, to learn more. 

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How eco-friendly are single-wall takeaway coffee cups? 

Essentially, single-wall cups can be disposed of right away as they comprise a single layer of material. They’re typically made from uncoated paperboard, although several now contain an inner aqueous coating or one made from polylactic acid (PLA). Overall, single-wall takeaway coffee cups are a convenient, lightweight, and cost-effective option for coffee shops and restaurants. 

Their simple design tends to make single-wall takeaway coffee cups the most sustainable choice, both in terms of production and disposal. Paper packaging is both recyclable and compostable, as it breaks down within 90 days when placed in a commercial composting facility. 

That said, single-wall takeaway cups do have some downsides, particularly around heat retention. These types of takeaway cups offer little protection when filled with hot liquids, which can make them uncomfortable for consumers to hold. Studies indicate that the maximum liquid temperature at which a single wall cup can be comfortably held without a sleeve is between 65C (150°F) and 70°C (160°F).

As a solution, some coffee shops would “double up” by putting one cup inside another. Esther Gibbs is the director of Hope Espresso, a coffee consultation and training company based in the UK. She explains the drawbacks of double cupping. 

“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.” 

As single-wall cups lack ideal insulation, the coffee’s temperature is likely to drop quickly. This may alter its characteristics, meaning the coffee isn’t always experienced the way the barista intended. To avoid this, brands can invest in custom-printed coffee cup sleeves. “Coffee cup sleeves can be branded to reflect the business’ personality,” Esther adds. “They help reduce costs and waste while improving the customer experience.”

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Exploring the sustainability of double-wall takeaway coffee cups 

“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.” 

Double-wall takeaway coffee cups consist of two layers of materials with a thin, insulating layer of air between them. This gap helps to maintain the heat of the coffee by acting like “double glazing.” Essentially, this insulating layer allows consumers to carry the cup without the need for an additional sleeve.

Single-wall cups tend to be flimsy, while double-wall alternatives are far more robust. They can protect the integrity of the product and showcase any custom branding as it is supposed to be seen. When it comes to double-wall takeaway coffee cups, the inner barrier layer often contains one coating, while the outer layer may be coated with a tear-resistant application to further prevent it from degrading.

It’s important to note that double-wall coffee cups may not be a viable option for all businesses. Their extra weight means they are usually more expensive to ship, while the additional layer makes them a more costlier option than single wall cups. In many cases, they’re often a challenge to recycle. However, this depends on the materials used and the local recycling facilities available.

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Which is the most sustainable option for your business? 

Overall, double-wall takeaway coffee cups offer added insulation and comfort for consumers. Alternatively, single-wall takeaway coffee cups are likely to deliver the most sustainable solution. Studies show that these cups can offer a 55% reduction in paper board use, 44% less paper weight, 29% smaller cartons, and an overall 20% reduction in carbon footprint when compared to the majority of double-wall takeaway cups. 

That said, there are distinct pros and cons for both options. Often, a combination of single and double wall cups is the best option for the majority of coffee businesses. That said, the size of the drinks you offer matters, as smaller sizes are more likely to be quickly consumed instead of lingered over. Reserving single-wall takeaway coffee cups for espressos or “short” drinks while using double-wall ones for larger drinks can be a cost-effective approach.

As double-wall takeaway cups are costlier and generally seen as “higher quality” they can be reserved for costlier drinks. It could also be a good choice if you’re trying to break into a corporate or high-income market where a more luxurious cup could make a better impression. 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.

For more information, contact our team

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Tori Taylor
Tori Taylor

Victoria is a highly experienced content creator, writer, and editor based out of South Africa. With the experience gained by working in newsrooms and writing for lifestyle magazines, she is now focussed on creating insightful and relatable content for the specialty coffee community.

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