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Why reusables?

by Pottery For The Planet on May 11, 2022

A guide to the most sustainable alternative to single-use paper cups and plastic containers.

 

We use 1 billion disposable cups in Australia and globally 78 million metric tonnes of plastic packaging (including takeaway containers) annually. That's a staggering amount of unnecessary, planet polluting waste! Thankfully, single-use plastics are increasingly being phased out of use across Australia by government policies and cultural shifts, but what are the alternatives? There are a few, and in this blog, we’ll break down the pros and cons of each so you can make informed, mother-nature minded and science-backed decisions about your sustainable swaps.
 

 

Compostable Single-Use Plastics

Bipakc cups


Image source

 

Compostable takeaway containers


Image source

 

Compostable packaging solutions are a popular alternative to regular, plastic takeaway containers, with growing availability at cafes and restaurants around the country. You may have seen plastic-looking cups being used for iced coffees or brown cardboard-looking boxes replacing styrofoam ones for takeaway meals. Their appeal lies in their material composition - rather than being made of petroleum-based materials, they're plant-based. Compostables may consequently be broken down/degraded, preventing them from being landfilled or making their way into the environment. With plastic takeaway cups and containers comprising a majority of ocean plastic pollution, according to research found in The Nature Sustainability Journal, this degradable swap means instead of waste, our containers can (in theory) be returned safely to the biosphere.

 

Pros

  • For retailers, compostables pose an easy solution to rampant single-use packaging culture. They’re a simple switch for cafes and restaurants as they aren’t dissimilar to single-use items. Few changes need to be made to their internal infrastructure to support this kind of packaging, besides suppliers. 
  • For customers, compostables maintain the appeal of single-use plastics in ease of use and disposal. They require little to no cultural or behavioural shift to use and are becoming more and more available. 
  • Traditional plastic takeaway packaging release harmful chemicals as well as microplastics into soil and water bodies. Compostables have the potential to leave fewer or no harmful remnants when broken down. 

Cons

  • Compostables aren’t the golden ticket out of pollution we were hoping for and can still be detrimental to the environment. An alarmingly low number of them are actually correctly disposed of ,with the remainder often ending up in systems where it cannot be broken down, such as landfill. In these systems, compostables further emissions by producing methane as they decompose. 
  • They remain an ongoing expense to businesses who must keep them in stock. Consumers usually pay a surcharge with their drinks or meals to account for this extra cost to business owners. 
  • If compostables enter material recovery facilities, (which occurs when they are placed in recyling bins) they contamminate recyclables. This may mean an entire batch of otherwise recyable materials must be landfilled. 
  • They still require unnecessary virgin resource inputs (usually sugarcane, bamboo or cornstarch). While these are generally some of the most environmentally friendly materials, their harvesting requires energy inputs, frequently powered by emissions casuing oil and gas.
  • Can contain toxins that enter into soil and waterways.

  • The two most commonly used materials for compostables, PHA, (polyhydroxyalkanoate) and PLA (polylactic acid) cannot match regular plastics properties like their strength, cost-effectiveness, permeability, aesthetic appeal and weight.

  • Can still end up in land and sea-based animal habitats and injure or kill marine and terrestrial life!


Single-Use Cardboard

 

Cardboard coffee cup
     


    Cardboard and paper cups may seem like an ideal option as they are derived from a renewable resource that many assume may be compostable/decomposable. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. These kinds of containers are resource and emissions-intensive and an unnecessary source of waste that perpetuates single-use culture! 

     

    Pros

    • Cardboard/paper takeaway coffee cups and containers decompose more readily than PET plastics. 
    • They can contain fewer toxins than plastics. 
    • Like compostables, they are an easy swap for both retailers and customers alike, and require little shift in business infrastructure or consumer behaviour. 

      Cons

      • Still create immense amounts of single-use waste, burdening our waste management systems. 
      • The interior of cardboard cups and containers is often lined with polyethene (petroleum-based plastic) coating to prevent the paper from getting soggy. This lining is difficult to break down and contains chemicals that pollute ecosystems. This lining requires more than 231,000 barrels of oil every year and means that 99.75% of coffee cups cannot be recycled.
      • This lining may also have hazardous health effects, as after 15 minutes of heat exposure it starts degrading. In a recent study, The Journal of Hazardous Materials revealed that three hot beverages from cardboard cups a day could mean that someone ingests a whopping 75,000 microplastic particles. While we might disagree on how to take your coffee, with oat milk or dairy, sugar or black, we can all agree microplastics don’t belong in our cuppa!
      • Like compostables, they are an ongoing expense to businesses and customers. 
      • Cardboard and paper are derived from trees, resulting in deforestation (over 20 million trees a year). While a ‘renewable’ resource, it's not an ideal one for the fauna and other flora that call these forests home, nor our worldwide population which relies on the world’s mature forests for clean air!
      • There are emissions associated with deforestation and manufacturing, with each cup resulting in 0.11 kilograms of CO2.

       

      Reusable Non-Plastic Products



      Our
      Sage Travel Cup and Gumnut Travel Bowl

      Reusables come in a vast variety of shapes, sizes, colours and materials and, while not all are created equal (we love our ceramics, what can we say!), reusables are a step in the right direction for a brighter, greener future for our planet. While they require a larger initial financial investment from consumers, they ultimately they ensure fewer single waste options end up in the biosphere, polluting the natural world and harming its inhabitants. 

       

      Pros

      • Keep beverages hotter for longer (‘extra hot’ coffee lovers, we’re looking at you!)
      • Aesthetically pleasing - We have a range of glazes to ensure there’s a sustainable swap in a shade you’ll love.
      • Coffee tastes better from ceramic (read more here)!
      • Depending on where you purchase your reusable cup from, you could be supporting artists, local businesses, cultural shifts from a single-use mindset to a ‘made to last’ mentality, the circular economy and more. Find out who you support when you shop Pottery For The Planet by meeting our local studio team and our partners
      • Carrying your reusable cup or container with you is a subtly powerful way to raise awareness.
      • Depending on the materials used, reusables will not leach toxins or result in the production of microplastics which may be consumed or enter the biosphere.
      • For cafes and restaurants, providing reusable options to purchase creates an additional revenue stream instead of loss in the purchase of single-use plastics or their more expensive counterparts, bio-plastics. (If you’re a business interested in stocking artisanally and locally made reusables, you can become a stockist for our Pottery For The Planet Travel Cups on our Stockist Enquiry)

       

       

      Cons

      • You might forget yours once in a while! Swapping disposable for reusable requires a behavioural change that takes getting used to. You have to remember to bring your cup/container.

      • There is a larger initial investment in purchasing your reusable cup or container. This is frequently subsided by cafes that will give you your coffee free with the purchase of a cup or offering a discount on reusable coffee cups and the like.

       

      In Conclusion 

      Coffee cups and food containers made from compostable plastics or cardboard are better for the environment than the common PET plastic and styrofoam options. While their benefits include being easy to adopt for cafes, restaurants and their community, they do have their drawbacks.

      There are still hazards associated with: 

       

      • Chemical toxins and microplastics pose risks to health and safety
      • Detriment to the environment caused by associated production emission
      • The use of resources that while renewable, still have an environmental cost

      Ultimately the most people and planet-friendly choice is to reduce the production and consumption of single-use options and switch to a more circular economy with consciously-made reusables. They’re safe, beautiful and speak to a change in a consumer culture that prioritises made-to-last and made to be loved instead of landfilled. An estimated 500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced globally per year - just think of how much waste we could prevent if each one of us made the switch to reusables. If every Australian switched to a reusable coffee cup, in a single day we would save 2.7 million single-use cups from being landfilled!

      We’re biassed, but we love our Travel Cups and Travel Bowls as a safe to use and the sustainably made option to replace single-use plastic, compostables and cardboard cups/containers. All our wares are handcrafted by an actual human and being handmade, each has subtle variations that make every piece unique. When you shop Pottery For The Planet, you support the work of our artisan ceramic crafters, as well as our mission to protect our beautiful planet and its inhabitants, one Cup, one Bowl, one step at a time. 


      Find our reusables below! 





      Shop Travel Bowls

      References

       

      Associated Services. (2016, August 19). It’s Time To Re-think The Disposable Coffee Cup. Associated Coffee. https://associatedcoffee.com/blog/its-time-to-re-think-the-disposable-coffee-cup/

      December 15, K. M., & 2020. (2020, December 15). It’s Dangerous to Drink Your Coffee This Way, Says New Study. Eat This Not That. https://www.eatthis.com/dangerous-drink-coffee-paper-cup-study/

      Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. (n.d.). Coffee cup recycling - DAWE. Www.awe.gov.au; Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/protection/waste/publications/coffee-cup-recycling#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%20over

      Fact Sheet: Single Use Plastics | Earth Day. (2018, March 29). Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/

      Helmer, J. (2019, August 14). The Massive Environmental Impact of Your Coffee Cup. FoodPrint. https://foodprint.org/blog/environmental-impact-coffee-cup/

      Greepeace. (2020). Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19. In Greenpeace (pp. 1–10). Greepeace. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2020/06/26618dd6-health-expert-statement-reusables-safety.pdf

      Masterclass. (2020, November 8). Biodegradable Plastic Guide: Explore the Pros, Cons, and Uses. Masterclass. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/biodegradable-plastic-guide

      Morales-Caselles, C., Viejo, J., Martí, E., González-Fernández, D., Pragnell-Raasch, H., González-Gordillo, J. I., Montero, E., Arroyo, G. M., Hanke, G., Salvo, V. S., Basurko, O. C., Mallos, N., Lebreton, L., Echevarría, F., van Emmerik, T., Duarte, C. M., Gálvez, J. A., van Sebille, E., Galgani, F., & García, C. M. (2021). An inshore–offshore sorting system revealed from global classification of ocean litter. Nature Sustainability, 4(6), 484–493. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00720-8

      nguyen. (2022, April 13). How Long Does It Take For Coffee Cups To Decompose? Trung Nguyen Online. https://www.trung-nguyen-online.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-coffee-cups-to-decompose/

      Ragavan, R., & Notaras, M. (2009, March 3). Sad Demise of the Paper Coffee Cup - Our World. Ourworld.unu.edu. https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/storm-in-a-paper-cup

      Ranjan, V. P., Joseph, A., & Goel, S. (2021). Microplastics and other harmful substances released from disposable paper cups into hot water. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 404, 124118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.124118

      Reality Check team. (2018, April 17). Plastic recycling: Why are 99.75% of coffee cups not recycled? BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43739043

      Robbins, J. (2020, August 31). Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem. Yale E360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-bioplastics-will-not-solve-the-worlds-plastics-problem

      Royte, E. (2018, September 14). Innovative food packaging, explained. Environment. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/food-packaging-plastics-recycle-solutions

      September 2018, A. P. T.-L. S. C. 17. (2017, September 17). If You Throw a Compostable Cup in the Trash, Does It Still Break Down? Livescience.com. https://www.livescience.com/63597-compost-trash-in-landfills.html

      Src=’https://Secure.gravatar.com/Avatar/Da87967c9bb90beb9aaec2cdc9268c63?s=100, img A., #038;d=identicon, Srcset=’https://Secure.gravatar.com/Avatar/Da87967c9bb90beb9aaec2cdc9268c63?s=200, 038;r=g’, #038;d=identicon, & Width=’100’ />, 038;r=g 2x’ C. A.-1. P. H. (2020, July 23). Why You Can’t Compost Compostable Cups At Home. Moral Fibres - UK Eco Blog. https://moralfibres.co.uk/the-problem-with-compostable-cups/

      Sustainability Victoria. (2022, March 15). Sustainability Victoria | Eco-friendly alternatives to disposable coffee cups. Sustainability Victoria. https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/recycling-and-reducing-waste/at-home/avoid-waste/minimise-single-use-items/disposable-coffee-cups#:~:text=Australians%20throw%20out%202.7%20million

      Upstream. (2020, May 2). INDISPOSABLE: The Safety and Future of Reuse - Full. Www.youtube.com; Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKGDRAwIxPw&feature=youtu.be

      Why Are Paper Coffee Cups Bad for the Environment? (n.d.). Www.goodstartpackaging.com. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.goodstartpackaging.com/paper-coffee-cups/