How Can Discontinuing the Use of Single Use Coffee Cups Benefit the Environment?

Environment   Apr 10, 2017 by Alyssa Gillan

Question: How can discontinuing the use of single use coffee cups benefit the environment?

Research: These are the questions we asked ourselves:

- How do single use coffee cups effect the environment?

- Is the plastic going into landfills and is staying there for thousands of years?

- Is the plastic releasing any harmful chemicals/ toxins into the environment?

- Are the cups recyclable?

- Can we make the cups recyclable if they aren't already?

- Can we make the cups 100% compostable?

- How can we reuse the cups for other things?

These are the answers we came up with:

-Single use coffee cups are made of three materials, a foil lid, a paper filter, and a plastic shell. These materials are sealed together, therefore they are not recyclable. All the cups are being sent to land fills where they sit there for thousands of years trying to decompose.

- Many toxic chemicals are released when plastic is made. Styrene and acrylonitrile are two examples. Factories in Canada have a high amount of exposure allowed for these chemicals than Europe and other continents. As a result, people are getting sick from being exposed to the chemicals. A study showed that women working in these factories had a four hundred percent increase risk in breast cancer.

- The plastic from the cups are sitting in landfills, blocking oxygen from getting to organic materials. When the organic chemical decomposes without oxygen it's releasing methane gas, which is a green house gas.

- Methane is a chemical contributing to global warming. Over a 20 year period, one ton of methane causes seventy-two percent more warming than one ton of carbon dioxide.

- The plastic also releases chemicals that transfer into the soil, or seeps into ground water harming all the plant and animal life around the area. The cups are unnecessary, and are a lot  plastic being added to our plastic pollution problem. We need to stop using these one use items.

Solutions: Here are a few basic ways to reduce the use of single use cups:

- Use a regular, old fashioned coffee machine. It is much cheaper and produces less waste.

- Used a reusable Keurig cup.

- Use a Recycle A Cup. It separates the three materials making them recyclable.

Here are bigger solutions:

- Use tea bags in the machine. Tea bags work in a Keurig machine, they are a fraction of the size, and they have no or little plastic. (some use plastic to seal the bag). A tea bag is just like the filter in the single use cup, it just doesn't have the lid or plastic shell. Why not put coffee grounds in a tea bag and sell it like that?

- Make the cups 100% compostable. For the filter, use a material like a tea bag that filters the coffee grounds and water. For the lid, use a uncoloured and unglossed paper seal (if it is coloured or glossed it contains toxins), and there would be no plastic shell.

- For the single cups you already have and need to use, look for new uses. For example, you can use it to store small items like paper clips, safety pins, or spare change. You can use them for crafting, or storing craft supplies. As well as holding spices, shaping ice cubes, and growing plants (when they are just little seeds).

We know that using the tea bags instead of cups is a great idea. Here is why:

- The waste is compostable (unless it has a plastic seal, even then that is a very small amount of plastic).

- There is less waste.

- They are a lot cheaper.

- They take up less space.

- The manufacturing isn't releasing harmful chemicals that plastic does.

We need a way to change the publics minds on this. We need to convince them to buy the tea bags or compostable cups instead of the regular single use plastic cups. So far this is what we have:

- They would be cheaper (tea bags).

- They are still fast and easy to use.

- They are better for the environment (less plastic going into landfills, less chemicals being produced when making plastic etc.)

- They still have the convenient single cup size.

- They take up less room.

Discontinuing the use of single use coffee cups will benefit the environment by:

- Reducing the amount of waste going into landfills by over 220 000 000 pounds per year.

- Reducing the amount of air and water pollution from the manufacturing and of the product as well as the chemicals released from the waste.

- Releases less green house gases into the air.

- Conserves natural resources (like oil, gas, and coal, which are all used to make plastics).

These solutions aren't perfect fixes but we need to start somewhere. Single use coffee cups are popular because the are convenient, but they cost a lot more money and are horrible for the environment. The only way to get this to change is if there is a demand for a plastic free or compostable cup. This is where you come in, we need your help to make a difference.

Thanks for reading and please ask questions or give feedback.

Resources: Here are some of our resources.

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