Cups runneth over

The summer season is in full swing — bringing long weekends and warmer temperatures, backyard barbeques and outdoor parties. Entertaining in the summer is fun and, while reusable beverage cups are truly the best option, many find that outdoor entertaining is made easier with the use of disposable beverage cups.

Did you know each disposable cup has a different environmental impact when it comes to waste management? The most common types of disposable cups are paper, plastic, Styrofoam, and PLA plastic.

Examples of paper cups which can go in the GreenCart

Paper cups go in the GreenCart.

Paper cups are actually lined with a thin layer of polyethylene (PET #1) film. This film helps keep hot beverages, like coffee, hot.  Some paper cups have an inner and outer lining of this polyethylene film and are primarily used for cold beverages at fast food restaurants (these cups are commonly referred to as waxed cups).

Paper cups are compostable and go in the GreenCart. Remember, plastic cup lids go in the Blue Box.

Plastic cups go in the Blue Box.

Plastic cups go in the Blue Box.

Clear plastic cups are made entirely from polyethylene plastic (PET #1), while coloured plastic cups are made from polypropylene plastic (PP #5), polystyrene plastic (PS #6), or mixed plastics (Other #7). Plastic cups have become increasingly popular because of iced coffees in fast food restaurants, and pop culture songs.

As of April 2013, plastic cups are accepted in the Blue Box. A new piece of sorting equipment was installed at our materials recovery facility making this possible.

Styrofoam cups go in the garbage.

Styrofoam cups go in the garbage.

Styrofoam cups are made when air is blown into a chemical compound called polystyrene (PS #6). Styrofoam is actually a brand name of a particular type of blown polystyrene. Styrofoam is very challenging to recycle because of how easily it crumbles. There isn’t a stable recycling market for Styrofoam.  So, all Styrofoam goes in the garbage.

"Compostable" plastic cups made from corn go in the garbage.

“Compostable” plastic cups made from corn go in the garbage.

The newest cups available on the market are made from polylactic acid plastic (Other or PLA #7). PLA products are actually made from corn. PLA products claim to be “biodegradable” and “compostable.” While they are made from corn, they have most of the same properties of regular plastic and do not compost in our composting facility. At the same time, because they are made from corn and not petroleum-based plastic, they have a different melting rate than regular plastic cups and cannot be recycled either. PLA cups go in the garbage.

So next time you raise a glass at your summer barbeque, consider buying a cup that can be easily recycled or composted, instead of one that goes in the garbage.

About this guest blogger:

Jacqueline Bryant-Allatt, Guest Blogger

Jacqueline Bryant-Allatt,
Guest Blogger

I’m Jacqueline Bryant-Allatt. I attend the University of Waterloo in a program called Environment and Resource Studies. As part of my co-op, I’m currently working at Halton Region as a Waste Diversion Technician. Most days, you can find me at different townhouse complexes throughout Halton conducting GreenCart and Blue Box participation studies.

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7 Responses to Cups runneth over

  1. Mary Patricia Paulin says:

    Thank you for the information. Shouldn’t there be some way, eg legislation, to prevent the manufacture of items that cannot be disposed of in recycling or composted? What government agency allows this to happen? Alternately, could the manufacturers be encouraged, if not obliged, to take back their own trash and store it in their own facilities?

  2. nextlevelmhe says:

    I learned a lot from this post. I know I won’t be using Styrofoam or PLA and I will probably say something the next time I see them being used at a function (me and my big mouth!).
    I write about green warehousing from time to time, I would love to pick your brain sometime!
    Kim Stebbins

  3. Pingback: Cups runneth over ← Recycleo : Recycling

  4. Everett Hicks says:

    Do not recycle: Disposable paper cups (the plastic lid is recyclable, but the paper cup portion is not. Place the paper cup portion in a certified compostable bag and then in your Green Cart).

  5. Reg Bryant says:

    We are impressed- and more knowledgeable!

  6. Pingback: Can we ban plastic? | HaltonRecycles

  7. Pingback: Coffee discs and cups – what convenience means to waste management | HaltonRecycles

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