Compostable Cups Are A Disposable Option That Reduces Landfill Waste

by Nicola Temple on October 26, 2011

Though many of us do our best to scrape out the experiment happening at the bottom of our travel mug and present it for filling, the reality is, sometimes we find ourselves at the mercy of the disposable cup.  However, some commercial vendors are turning to compostable cups as an alternative disposable take-away container, which is helping to reduce the waste going into landfills.

Rather than plastic or Styrofoam cups that may at best be recycled, but at worst end up in a landfill, compostable cups are 100% biodegradable. They will biodegrade, breaking down into organic matter that can then be added to soil to improve plant growth.

However, in the disposable cup jungle, it isn`t always easy to identify the compostable cup, you have to recognize its markings!

How to identify a compostable cup

The easiest way to identify a compostable cup is to look for a green stripe around the cup and the word compostable. This is also how sorting facilities recognize compostable cups – the green stripe!

There are two versions, one for cold liquids and one for hot. The cold liquid compostable cups are made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from plant starch (which is usually corn in North America). For all intensive purposes, it looks like a regular clear plastic cup made of polyethylene. However, unlike its petroleum-based look-alike, the PLA cups are difficult to recycle but fully compostable.

Hot liquid compostable cups are made of paper lined with PLA. The non-compostable versions will be lined with wax or polyethylene, so beware of those and look for that green stripe and the word compostable.  Also, look for the FSC certified label to ensure the paper component is coming from a sustainable source. If you aren`t too fussy about color, go for the more environmentally friendly unbleached, chlorine-free version too.

Sourcing compostable cups

compostable cups

Look for the green stripe and the word compostable when sourcing compostable cups such as this corn starch cup from Jaya Pla.

If you are looking for compostable cups for your business or to make a friendly suggestion to your favourite coffee shop, there are a number of sources out there for both cold and hot drinks. Here are a few:

Cold cups:

Hot cups:

The best place to start is with the Biodegradable Products Institute. They have a compostable label program and you can search their certified compostable products online.

This video provides some additional tips when looking for compostable hot cups.

Proper disposal of compostable cups

Of course, there is absolutely no point in providing compostable cups if you don`t also collect them and dispose of them correctly.

Retailers that use compostable cups must also provide a separate bin for collection. The cups can then be taken to a commercial composting facility as they generally need high heat (55-60oC) to degrade in a reasonable length of time.

You can search for a local commercial composting facility here.

If you do end up with a compostable cup at home and want to add it to your home compost, it`s a good idea to cut it up into smaller pieces before you add it, just to help it along the way. Also, be sure to turn your compost regularly as this introduces oxygen to the pile and will further aid the composting process.

For many of us, our morning routine includes a cup of whatever substance we most need to get our neurons firing. Whether it’s a coffee, tea, mocha, espresso, smoothie, or detox juice with a wheatgrass shot, the point is, they all need a cup. As consumers, we can keep a lot of waste out of landfills by encouraging our favourite establishments to convert over to compostable cups. If you are a business owner, consider switching to compostable cups to help reduce the environmental impact of your business.

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