Cradle to the grave: Why bio-degradable cups are a waste of money and time.

landfill picture

(Landfill in Dryden, Ontario:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Landfill.jpg – This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.)

This article originally appeared here.

At the moment there is a huge push for being green and helping out the environment, and one of the biggest things spearheading this push is the bio-degradable market. But why?

The general consensus at the moment is this: A company markets their new bio-degradable line of products to a café, the café is a green café, very aware of the environment, serves only the finest responsibly sourced products, recycles the products they use in the store and laments over the paper cups they sell not being very “green” so they pay the high cost for bio-degradable cups and then feel better about themselves.

Now let’s shift focus to the end-user, the consumer. A customer will go into a café, “a hazelnut latte to go please”, they then receive their nice warm beverage in a bio-degradable paper cup. “Thanks, keep the change.”
The customer heads off on their merry way thinking they’ve done something excellent for the environment. But this is where it all comes crashing down.Waste Triangle

As the last drops of coffee drip onto the customers tongue they then become burdened with something…an empty paper cup, aka, litter.

Looking around they see black bins all over the place, maybe the blue outline of paper recycling (the cup can’t go in there either, it’s contaminated with food and also lined with plastic, bio-degradable plastic sure, but plastic all the same). The only place this cup is useful is in an industrial composter and there certainly aren’t collection points lining the streets so where does the cup go? In the black bin.

Where does the black bin go? The landfill.

Ultimately then the café has paid premium price for a product that was supposed to be green but has actually ended up in a landfill, where it is useless as a bio-degradable cup.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Even if it is in a landfill, it will still degrade faster than everything else.”

Except it won’t.

When refuse is taken to a landfill it is essentially vacuum packed as it is crushed down. Without air the bacteria will not grow, thus there is nothing there to actually breakdown the products. 50 year old newspapers have been dug up from old sites and are still readable.

The landfill companies do this on purpose for safety reasons. The structural safety on the landfills would be compromised if things were breaking down relative to other pieces of rubbish, it would create methane which would be very flammable and it would also create a stream of horrible black liquid pouring down the hill.
When considering your cup purchasing you need envision the whole life of the cup. As a business owner it isn’t good for your thinking to just end at “we’ve done our bit, we’ve got the green cup, we have the green ingredients, therefore we are green”. You have to consider the whole life of the cup, from cradle to grave.
So if bio-degradable cups and normal cups end up in the same graves, then what?

Here at the Printed Cup Company we do a lot for the environment, most notably we work with a company called Green Earth Appeal. Customers can, for an extra 99p per 1000 cups, donate to the cause. With the money, Green Earth Appeal will plant a tree in impoverished countries which does two things. Offsets the carbon from your order, helping combat global warming. And it also provides the communities in these countries with food, shade and soil regeneration as the roots draw water to the surface.

As of writing we have planted, in collaboration with Green Earth Appeal, 8239 trees.
So when you’re ordering in the future consider your options and don’t pay extra for a product that won’t actually make that big of an impact.

Five questions table

Additional Reading:

http://environment.about.com/od/recycling/a/biodegradable.htm

http://www.greenearthappeal.org/

http://www.printedcupcompany.co.uk/green-earth-appeal

http://promega.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/recycle-or-compost-sorting-out-the-cornstarch-from-the-plastic/

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One thought on “Cradle to the grave: Why bio-degradable cups are a waste of money and time.

  1. I work in a supermarket and have to say over the last year the number of thermos cups and reusable water bottles we sell has risen considerably

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