Terminating Disposable Cups

We use about 16 billion disposable cups every year. Along with the lids, stirrers, straws, and paper cozies we use with them, these paper, plastic, or foam cups hit the landfill. Some are biodegradable or even compostable, but many, especially for hot drinks, are made of styrofoam, which lasts for a long, long time.

In fact, even paper cups for hot drinks cannot be recycled, because a plain paper cup can’t hold hot liquid without disintegrating. Those cups must be coated with polyethylene.

Disposable cups are definitely a problem.

There are quite a few possible solutions.

Starbucks pilot program

Starbucks has a new pilot program with reusable cups. Buy your drink and then bring back your cup, scan it, and dispose of it in a special no-touch collection device. The device will wash and sanitize the cup and return it to the system for re-use.

Since you scanned that cup, you get extra reward points. If you just throw it away, you can feel a little better because it is at least biodegradable, but the closed-system option for re-use may be more effective than recycling. The extra rewards may also encourage people to return their cups.

TURN Systems  is the designer of the Borrow a Cup program.

Old-school options

If you drink your drink at Starbucks, and at many other coffee shops as well, you have the option of choosing a washable cup in the first place. Another new Starbucks program allows you bring in your own cup and save a dime when you have it filled. You’re in charge of washing it yourself.

If you can, refuse the lid on your drinks to avoid that non-recyclable plastic. The paper cozies are intended to prevent people using two cups to avoid burning their hands, and they can be recycled if you dispose of them correctly.

You can also do what some crafty people have done and bring your own cup cozy made from fabric or yarn. Take it home and wash it — you can reuse it many times.


Modern consumers care about sustainability, so manufacturers need to care, too. Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a good slogan…and making it easier for end-use customers to do the same is a good plan.


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