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Disposable Coffee Cups – What Is The Best Option?

Paper cups, Recyclable cups, Plastic cups, Styrofoam cups, – What’s your choice?
Coffee, in whichever cup has an impact on the environment. The question is how much? How do we minimise the impact and yet get to enjoy a coffee on the go?


Plastic Cups?

Maybe for an iced coffee. Definitely not for a steaming hot coffee as with no insulation qualities, you will not be able to hold the cup. Not to mention the fact that even after hundreds of years the plastic does not degrade in the landfill. Even more worrying is that plastic cups holding hot liquid can leach the dangerous bisphenol A (BPA). BPA an endocrine disruptor which mimics your body‘s natural hormones. Hormones serve different functions throughout your body. BPA has been shown to affect reproduction and brain development.

Styrofoam Cup?

The perfect solution to holding a hot drink without scalding your hand! The craze started 30 years ago as a cheap and great insulation for keeping coffee hot and fingers not. And it does not leak. But this bad boy is the worst-of-the-worst when it comes to disposable coffee cups. Made from polystyrene, a type of plastic derived from petroleum, Styrofoam cups never fully degrade even after 500 years from now. Furthermore, polystyrene contains styrene that has been known to be toxic to the nervous system and disruptive to menstrual cycles.

Paper Cups?

Enter the environment friendly alternative – the paper cup. But it is more expensive – five times more than the Styrofoam cup and it can still scald your fingers.  To improve its functionality of these cups are coated with polyethylene for insulation and durability.  Hot liquid can cause the Polyethylene to leach posing health risks such as DNA damage, Alzheimer and cancer.

Is there a saving grace? It degrade quickly and doesn’t harm the environment? Think about the energy used to simply create the cups – the millions of trees cut down every year just to manufacture these paper cups!

Recyclable Cups

Paper cups manufacturers and users have also claimed that they are recyclable. Are they? The polyethylene coating that makes your cup sturdy also prevents it from being recycled.     The success of recycling depends on the facilities capability and to a large extent customers’ behaviour patterns. Even if the cup is fully recyclable, it needs to end in the right bin and not the garbage bag on the way to the landfill!

So what can be a working sustainable alternative? 

Biodegradable disposable cups made from bioplastics which need not be recyclable but disposed off to biodegrade under the right environment within 120 days.


Element disposable coffee cups are made from Origo, a starch based bio-plastic made primarily from corn and yam and hence 100% biodegradable and compostable. A good percentage (70%) of corn and yam starch blended with polypropylene (Polypropylene PP - 30%) forms the basis of Origo.

PP is added to ensure water-proofing and heat resistance. It also allows Origo to withstand high temperatures. Pure starch though cheap, cannot be easily thermoformed and does not produce sound structural qualities, thus failing to meet commercial expectations. The overall structure of the product is strong, non brittle, slightly naturally tinted (ivory coloration) and most importantly, very affordable.

Element products are strong, durable, heat resistant and competitive priced compared to paper cups.  The biodegradation produces a non-toxic waste for fertilizers, emission of non-toxic gases which are not harmful to animals or humans and a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide by 68% when incinerated.

PP has shown not to leach any carcinogens or endocrine disruptor, not suspected to be an environmental toxin and not suspected of being bioaccumulative. And even if it needs to be recycled, it is  easier to recycle than almost any other plastic.  It even flows more easily as it degrades, without cross linking, gel forming or off-gassing.



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