Problem with the recycling cup

Coffee to go: avoid disposable cups

Why "wild garbage" is a problem for all of us

Because our society is becoming more and more mobile, the trend towards flexible and fast eating and drinking on the go is unbroken. The number of people commuting for work is growing, and the commutes in their free time are also getting longer - coffee to go is therefore becoming increasingly popular. The downside is: City cleaning and municipalities have to struggle with growing mountains of rubbish, overfilled rubbish bins and with the so-called wild garbage, which largely consists of disposable cups. The rubbish from the disposable cups makes up up to 15 percent of the volume of the existing rubbish bins in urban areas.

The disposal of the cups thrown in the squares and green spaces causes unnecessary costs for the cities - and thus for everyone who pays taxes and duties. With throwing away, neglect often sets in, because if the environment is already littered, the willingness of passers-by to properly dispose of their rubbish decreases. Vandalism is also becoming more likely.

Why recycling of disposable cups often doesn't work

There are no figures on how many cups are actually recycled. One thing is clear: disposable cups are service packaging. Like the french fries bowl or the ice cream sundae, they belong in the yellow sack or bin. Or the recycling bins, if a municipality offers them. But they rarely end up there.

Because the cup is emptied on the way and is usually disposed of in the nearest public garbage can, it usually ends up being incinerated. The raw materials that are in the cup, such as wood and oil, are therefore lost forever after only a short period of use.

The material of the paper cup makes recycling difficult, even if it is thrown in the yellow bin / recycling bin. Because the paper cups are coated in such a way that they do not soak up quickly when they come into contact with moisture. The dissolving of the paper fibers required for recycling therefore does not work completely and the paper fibers can only be partially recycled.

If you buy drinks in disposable cups, you also pay twice for disposal if the cup ends up in the residual waste bin: First of all, when you buy it, because the bottlers have to pay a license fee for the paper cup, which they add to the price of the drink. And then the costs for the disposal of residual waste via the waste fees. Disposal via the yellow sack / bin or recycling bin would be free of charge, but the to-go cup is usually not disposed of there.

What the life cycle assessment says: Reusable cups avoid energy, raw materials and waste

To make a reusable cup, you first need more raw materials and energy than a paper or plastic cup. But a reusable cup can be used very often and for many years and thus replaces the 34 disposable cups that are used on average every year. The bottom line is that it saves a lot of resources and energy over a long period of use. A resealable reusable cup is also more practical: it keeps its contents warm longer, prevents leaks better than its cardboard companion - and, last but not least, is simply more stylish.

Disposable lids make the disposable cups particularly polluting

In a current study, the Federal Environment Agency compared the environmental pollution of disposable cups for hot drinks with reusable cups.

The main results:

  • Plastic cups are more polluting than cardboard plastic cups
  • The disposable plastic lid is particularly harmful to the environment, it is given a very negative ecological rating.
  • The use of disposable cups for hot drinks in Germany corresponds to the environmental impact of 5000 households in Germany per year. Mind you, for packaging that is no longer useful after about 10 minutes and ends up in the trash.
  • Which is better: returnable deposit cups or your own cup? A deposit cup is only partially better than a one-way system if it is used less than 10 times. With more than 10 circulations, it is much better than its cardboard competition. In the comparison, your own cup, which you take with you to fill up, comes off best.
  • Rinsing the reusable cups should be as environmentally friendly as possible. That means: use as little water as possible when washing up or, when using a dishwasher, always fill it up and use the economy program.

Be careful when choosing the material for a reusable cup

You can find out which reusable cups keep warm for a long time and are leak-proof in current test reports:

Consumers should definitely pay attention to the suitable material when buying a mug, because not every mug is suitable for filling hot beverages. Above all, avoid mugs made from melamine resins, including the popular bamboo mugs. The cup should also be free of bisphenol.

Suitable materials are stainless steel and porcelain. If it should be a plastic cup, then nothing speaks against polypropylene (PP). More information under Pollutants in bamboo dishes - warnings for misleading advertising

What to watch out for when refilling

"Can you put the coffee in my mug too?" Bakeries and Co. are quite ready to fulfill this wish. In terms of hygiene, there are some uncertainties as to whether filling is possible. It is not legally forbidden to pour a hot drink into a mug that you have brought with you. However, if contamination leads to health problems, the providers bear the liability risk. According to food surveillance, such a case is not yet known.

A study by the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences shows that reusable cups hardly pose a hygiene risk. It could be proven that the possible germ load from reusable coffee cups is negligible compared to the possible risks of a poorly maintained machine.

The coffee seller decides whether and how the mug you have brought with you is filled. If you bring a mug, you should definitely note: The mug must be rinsed and optically clean. This can best be seen in a mug with a light-colored inside. Contact with the inlet head of the coffee machine or a tap (e.g. in self-service shops) must be avoided. A nationwide coordinated leaflet shows exactly how the filling can be carried out cleanly.

Some providers even give a price reduction - discounts of up to 30 cents are possible for the mug you bring with you. But since a standard cup costs only a few cents to buy, a 10 cents discount is a "good discount offer".

Deposit systems for coffee to go cups

There are now deposit systems as an alternative to disposable cups in more and more cities. Usually a euro deposit is charged for the cup, which you can then exchange for a clean cup the next time you shop.

If you can't find a bottler for your coffee to go in the mug you've brought with you or a deposit system, there is still the option of avoiding waste in the "classic" way: filling the thermo mug at home not only saves waste, but also money.