Paper cups are a staple in restaurants that offer take-out. Restaurant owners and patrons assume that paper is an environmentally-friendly alternative to foam. But in many ways, paper cups are just as bad – if not worse – than foam and other non-biodegradable materials.

Here's the good news: There are several eco-friendly alternatives out there. But first, let's take a look at why paper cups are not good for the environment.

Why Paper Cups are Bad for the Environment

Are paper cups eco-friendly? No – not usually. It's easy to assume that paper cups can be recycled – just like your morning newspaper – but they often cannot be.

An estimated 1.3 tons of paper cups were produced in 2007. About 58 billion paper cups are used in the United States alone each year. It takes a lot of trees to produce that many paper cups. Trees produce oxygen and absorb harmful carbon dioxide.

Each time we cut down trees to create these restaurant staples, we lose just a little bit of oxygen and that buffer against pollution that trees offer.

The loss of trees is a double tragedy, as the transportation of a single paper cup is estimated to produce 0.11 kilograms of CO2 and trees absorb CO2.

Some experts also argue that paper cups emit methane when they decompose. The ink used to produce custom cups also emits chemicals into the environment.

On top of all of this, the transportation to get the cup from forest to table harms the environment.

Can Paper Cups be Recycled?

Not usually.

Why can't paper cups be recycled?

Most paper cups are coated with grade 4 low-density polyethylene, which makes them unsuitable for recycling in most states. The material helps keep hot liquids inside of the cup and prevents leaks, but it also renders the cup useless in the recycling department.

Are Paper Cups Biodegradable?

Are paper cups ecofriendly? Are they biodegradable?

Technically, yes, they are biodegradable. But experts warn that it can take up to 30 years for cups to decay. Ultimately, they are not really an ecofriendly option.

Cups made with biodegradable material, on the other hand, break down easily and many can be composted.

Are Biodegradable Cups Recyclable?

In some cases, biodegradable cups can be recycled. But don't just assume that all products labeled biodegradable can be properly recycled.

When purchasing these types of cups, it's important to check with the manufacturer to find out whether they can be recycled.

What are Biodegradable Cups Made Of?

Conventional paper cups have waterproof linings that prevent leaks from hot and cold beverages. This lining is helpful, but it's also the reason why paper cups can't be recycled or break down in a landfill. These linings are made from petroleum, which is not a renewable resource and cannot break down.

Biodegradable cups still have waterproof linings, but they're made from bioplastics derived from corn, sugarcane or potatoes. These linings, made from renewable resources, can break down into earth-friendly compost that can enrich soil.

Biodegradable cold cups (designed only for cold liquids) are made entirely of these bioplastics.

Bioplastics can easily degrade in industrial composting facilities, which can then be used to feed soil and enhance the nutrients in foods grown on farms.

3 Alternatives to Take Out Paper Cups

Conventional paper cups aren't the only solution available to restaurant owners. There are recyclable and biodegradable cups that will reliably hold liquids and make your customers happy. Offering eco-friendly cups will make your establishment more attractive to customers.

Here are three excellent – and environmentally-friendly – alternatives to conventional paper cups.

1. Recyclable Paper Cups and Lids

Recyclable disposable cups allow customers to do their part in reducing waste. You'll find recyclable cups with lids for both hot and cold beverages. They come in a wide range of sizes, too, so you can find the right option for your restaurant. Options are available for both hot and cold cups.

It's important to check with the manufacturer to make sure that the cups you're purchasing are, in fact, recyclable.

2. Eco-Friendly Coffee Cups

Yes, there are eco-friendly, disposable coffee cups. Many manufacturers now offer biodegradable cups for hot drinks, so you can serve customers their coffee to-go without worrying about your impact on the environment.

You'll find the same variety of options for disposable tea cups, so you don't have to compromise when serving hot beverages.

Biodegradable plastic cups with lids may cost a little more than their conventional counterparts, but they have less of an impact on the environment. They also serve as a marketing point for your restaurant. Customers would rather frequent establishments that do their part to minimize their environmental impact.

In addition to the cups themselves, you can also purchase recyclable or biodegradable coffee cup jackets and recyclable plastic lids for all cup sizes.

3. Reusable Cups

The truly eco-friendly alternative to the paper cup is a reusable cup. Many establishments either offer to-keep cups that can be reused (at an additional charge), or a scheme that allows customers to bring in their own cups.

For coffee and tea, the latter arrangement works well, especially if you offer a small discount for customers bringing their own cups.

The same scheme can work for cold beverages, although it's more popular with hot ones.

If you have the budget, you can also offer customized cups and mugs with your restaurant's name and logo to customers. You will be surprised by how many customers will buy these mugs and cups as souvenirs.

The Cost of Biodegradable and Recyclable Cups

Biodegradable and recyclable cups are often more expensive than conventional paper cups, but many restaurant owners find that they are worth the cost. We all have to live on this planet, so it's important to do our part in reducing our environmental impact.

Here's what you can expect to spend on eco-friendly cups: when paper cups cost $29.99 for 1000pcs (for example, SafePro 4V 4 Oz cups) - biodegradable ones are as cheap as $36.99 for 1000 pcs (in case of PacknWood 210GCZEN4 4 Oz cups). So if you feel you can afford spending extra $7 for a pack to use eco-friendly serveware you’ll be doing a great investment into the global ecology preservation.

Where to Buy Biodegradable Cups

Not sure where to buy paper cups? We offer a range of different paper products that can be recycled or composted.

Check out our catalog to view our full range of eco-friendly cups and paper products.