Many of us can’t make it through the day without it, but does picking up your morning coffee have broader consequences? If you place your order "to-go", there are likely environmental impacts that are being overlooked. Marketplace recently published an article by Lewis Wallace detailing this exact problem.
The classic Polystyrene (Brand name "Styrofoam") coffee cups are being pushed out of the market by paper, recyclable, and compostable alternatives. According to Michael Lenihan, director of food services at International Paper, he notes that individual consumers are voluntarily shifting towards sustainably sourced products, providing the impetus for this economic growth.
From economics to politics, polystyrene is facing serious obstacles. In 2013, New York City banned polystyrene food packaging, and local California city Walnut Creek passed a polystyrene ban through a City Council meeting this past Tuesday.
Despite the battle between these two materials, the overarching issue is that they are ending up in the same place: landfills. Paper cups, due to plastic coatings and liquid residue contamination, are often no more recyclable than foam cups. Similarly "compostable" cups such as Greenware or Ecotainer often end up in landfills as well, due to limited availability of industrial composting facilities in residential areas.
So what’s the answer to the coffee cup conundrum? Until packaging and waste management technologies and availability improve, bring your own reusable cup!