Australia’s ever-growing caffeine habit could be doing more damage than we think, with environmentalists warning disposable coffee cups are fast on their way to becoming a major pollution hazard.
Disposable coffee cups, which look like they are made of paper, have been found to contain plastics that do not break down and are damaging to the environment.
“These cups have a plastic lining that, when they go away, either end up in landfill – they don’t biodegrade – or they end up in the environment where they become a major pollution hazard,” environmentalist Tim Silverwood told the ABC’s 7.30.
“Even though the paper may degrade and become inert, the plastic will stick around for a really long time.”
Coffee cups are estimated to be the second-largest contributor to litter waste after plastic bottles.
It is estimated Australians use one billion disposable coffee cups each year.
Richard Fine, who founded biodegradable coffee cup manufacturer Biopak a decade ago, estimated up to 90 per cent of all disposable cups ended up in landfill, equating to around 60,000 kilograms of plastic waste per annum.
“We’re working hard to fix that up though. We think that cups can be recycled and should be recycled,” he said.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who is heading an inquiry into plastics, said plastic in oceans was the world’s biggest global pollution problem.
“They are so small and dangerous – they can get inside the stomachs of fish and other marine creatures,” he told 7.30.
“The ocean is turning into a plastic soup and, given the ocean is the source of all life on this planet, we are going to end up choking.”
What about recyclable cups?
Truly recyclable cups are being made, but this option comes at a price and not all cafe owners are willing to wear that cost.
Some disposable coffee cups claim to be recyclable, some claim to be compostable and others are sold as biodegradable, but Mr Fine said these claims could be misleading for a number of reasons.
Recyclable: Whether a plastic-coated paper cup is recyclable varies from area to area, with some local councils accepting coffee cups as part of their recycling process, while others exclude them and dump them in landfill.
Compostable: When the materials of these cups break down, they are supposed to be suitable for using in compost. However composting is not widely available in Australia, so cups are put in household or community compost. Most compostable coffee cups still end up in landfill.
Biodegradable: Generally, this involves using an additive in the oil-based plastic lining which will break down when deprived of oxygen. But the scientific evidence has not sufficiently proven that this does in fact work.
What’s the solution?
There are four practical things that you can do to reduce coffee cup landfill that will not mean giving up your daily coffee ritual.
• Don’t take away – drink your coffee from ceramic cups at the cafe
• Bring your own reusable cup
• Refuse a lid – if you don’t need the lid don’t take one
• Choose a cup made from rapidly renewable resources like managed plantation paper board and separate the lid from the cup when disposing of the rubbish