The Plastic Cup
8% of the world’s fossil fuels are dedicated to the production of plastics-plastics which include single-use, plastic cups. Most plastic cups contain chemicals known as bisphenol A, or BPA, and phthalates. 93% of people have detectable amounts of BPA in their urine and compounds of these chemicals in their bodies. While more research must be conducted, many studies in animals show that these chemicals are responsible for many health concerns including heart disease, diabetes, and damage to developing brains and reproductive systems. In Bend, Oregon, plastic cups along with straws and lids are not recyclable. And in the United States alone, 500 million straws are used every day only to be discarded. Worse, as plastic sits in landfills, it can leach chemicals into the ground overtime which can potentially contaminate nearby groundwater. If burned, plastic can release toxic fumes. Incinerating plastic doesn’t destroy it completely, either. In fact, every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists today.
The Paper Cup
In order to create one, average sized, single-use paper cup, 33g of wood, 4.1g of petroleum, 1.8g of chemicals, 650 BTU’s of energy, and approximately 1 gallon of water are used. Additionally, the production of one cup emits 0.24lbs of Carbon Dioxide. Approximately 60 billion paper cups are deposited into landfills around the United States every year. To put that into perspective, if an individual comsumed and disposed of one of these cups every day, it would amount to 23lbs of waste a year. Perhaps the most appalling fact about paper cups is that they, along with their plastic lids and straws, are not recyclable in Bend, Oregon. This is appalling because according to a study done in the UK, 8/10 people believe paper cups are recyclable. If these numbers are transferrable to the US, that means 8/10 times a paper cup is disposed of, it is put into a recycling bin. If an item that is not recyclable is put into a bin of items that are, it “contaminates” all surrounding materials and everything must be disposed of in the landfill.
The Compostable Cup is not the answer
(And neither is the biodegradable)
(Nor the recyclable)
While these methods are valuable steps towards reducing the amount of waste created by single-use cups, the most sustainable method is to use a reusable cup. This is because the overall production of these products requires valuable natural resources and creates pollution harmful to humans and the environment. Also, if a cup claims to be made from recycled paper, strict FDA guidelines only allow 10-25% of paper pulp to come in contact with food. Many degradable plastics include added chemicals to make them less durable and easier to break-down. The chemicals found in these cups can be responsible for the contamination of water and have even been proven hazardous to the health of humans. Additionally, the conditions necessary for the break-down of compostable and degradable cups are extremely specific so often, the technology of the cup isn’t even utilized. And typically, these advanced cup technologies are more expensive for businesses which inevitably harms the consumers’ wallet. During their existence, plastic and paper cups threaten wildlife because small pieces of the cups are often ingested by marine life and other organisms.