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What are the benefits of recyclable paper cups?

The use of recyclable paper cups has long been the preferred choice for consumers and businesses, and the recent ban on Styrofoam has raised questions about their environmental and health benefits. While styrofoam cups are biodegradable, they increase waste and GHG emissions. The entire value chain must work together to achieve recovery infrastructure and meet consumer needs.

Styrofoam cups are biodegradable
There is an argument to be made for using compostable paper cups over non-recyclable styrofoam cups. These cups are made from polystyrene, which will not biodegrade and can be broken down by mealworm larvae. These larvae can break down Styrofoam with no adverse side effects. In addition, traditional plastics take years to degrade and can have a devastating impact on the environment.

As a result, the plastics found in Styrofoam are a major contributor to global warming. Each year, the U.S. alone produces 3 million tons of the stuff. That's the equivalent of 21 million tons of CO2 a year! Additionally, the water used in the production of Styrofoam cups must be treated and cleaned before being dispersed back into water systems. That water wastes 1.3 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.

Disposable paper cups are biodegradable
You can recycle a paper cup, but that doesn't mean they're "biodegradable." These cups can only be composted after they have been disposed of. Biodegradable paper cups use virgin paper that has never been treated with chemicals. This makes them 100% biodegradable, but the process requires energy and material. You can also take them to a recycling center. These facilities are available in 80 percent of the U.S.

A biodegradable paper cup's life cycle is very different from a conventional paper cup. Because it's made from paper, the paperboard and PLA coating layer degrade naturally in moist environments. These substances won't contribute to landfill methane or other harmful chemicals. They will decompose into a variety of other organic matters, including soil. So, they're more environmentally friendly than most plastic cups.

Recyclable paper cups reduce GHG emissions
Recyclable paper cups can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 54 percent. These cups can also be reused up to seven times, thereby reducing waste to landfills. Unfortunately, many paper cups are not recycled at all, and the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) classifies them as unrecyclable. Recyclable paper cups cannot be composted in the average home compost bin.

Recyclable paper cups are more environmentally friendly than their plastic counterparts. Reusing cups can reduce GHG emissions by up to 40 percent. Some studies have shown that switching to reusable cups reduces carbon emissions by about three times, which is more than double Malta's annual footprint. Yet, despite this evidence, policy measures are still lacking to stop consumers from using these superfluous cups. Recycled paper cups are also much more convenient than plastic.

Recyclable paper cups reduce GHG emissions. A study of paper cups showed that they have the least carbon footprint, and that recycling them halved their carbon impact. In addition, paper cups are hygienic, making them a great choice for food safety. Inefficient washing of reusable cups, especially ceramic ones, creates a food safety issue. However, if the cups are made of plant-based materials, there is less risk of contamination.

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