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5 min read

The problem with disposable coffee cups

We drink a lot of coffee in this country, and around 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every day in the UK which adds up to a staggering 2.5 billion takeaway cups that used and thrown away each year. 


As many of us now know these billions of cups are not at all easy to recycle as they contain a plastic lining. In fact its so difficult research from 2018 claims that 99.75% never make it to a recycling plant. That’s less than 1% that get recycled! 

 Coffee chains are listening to public opinion on this and chains like Pret and Costa have launched impressive sounding recycling schemes for their cups. However even with these schemes working at optimum levels the vast majority of takeaway cups will simply never get recycled and will end up as waste. The logistics of needing to get all these cups to specialist recycling plants makes it very difficult. 


The solution to disposable coffee cups

It's not often that there's a really easy, simple solution to the problems we face but getting your self a reusable cup is one of them. Public action has signalled the beginning of the end of plastic bags, straws and other disposables. Why not the takeaway cup? 

Getting yourself a reusable cup is an easy way to reduce your ecological footprint and save yourself some money too, as many coffee shops will give you a discount if you bring your own reusable cup. 


Read this fascinating article about what happened when Boston Tea party stopped giving out disposable cups altogether.


Does it really help the environment to use a reusable coffee cup? 

Well that depends!  It takes between 20 and 100 uses for a reusable cup to match the carbon footprint of a takeaway cup. Depending on your level of caffeine addiction, it shouldn’t take too long to balance it out! There a huge choice in style, material and design when it comes to choosing what you need, and not all reusable cups are equal when it comes to their ecological credentials. Read on to find out more. 


Types of reusable coffee cups


Ceramic is non-reactive, it won’t impart flavour. However it comes with a relatively high carbon footprint (a lot of energy gets used firing it in kilns), and is pretty fragile and heavy. 


Glass is very similar to ceramic, with kiln firing necessitating heavy energy use. It’s also very fragile, no good for those if us who are clumsy! 

Hard plastics

Hard plastics are still used frequently for reusable cups, though make sure you choose a BPA-free option. Plastic can be a good insulator, has a relatively small footprint compared to glass or ceramic, but it can leach a plastic taste into the beverage the first few times it's used. Plastic can be quite durable, but it's never recycled, only down-cycled, meaning eventually it'll reach a point where it's no longer usable and will end up in landfill or worse. The scourge of micro plastics in our oceans and beaches is a problem that is only growing. 

 The main draw for plastic is the cost, as it's very very cheap. But when there is such a variety of materials to choose from, we would advise you steer clear of plastic for your coffee or tea. For yourself and the environment.


The energy cost of bamboo production is on par with plastic cups, but with a far better footprint. Although, the safety of bamboo for transporting hot drinks has come into question. Research by German consumer group Stiftung Warentest looked into the dangers of heating the melanin resin that binds the cup together, which is a combination of melanin and fomaldehyde. Read more here. 

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is non-reactive, so it won’t retain or impart flavour into your coffee or tea. It’s extremely durable, and will last decades. It has a relatively low carbon footprint compared to glass or ceramics. Steel is always made up of at least 50% recoiled material and at the end of its long life its fully recyclable. Stainless steel is often used for thermal coffee mugs or flasks but it’s an excellent material for non thermal beakers and cups, due to its durability. 


 Looking after your reusable coffee cup

You want your travel mug to withstand being bashed about a bit and left in bags. Glass, ceramic and even bamboo can break if dropped, a steel cup is the strongest and most durable. 

You will also want to wash your cup regularly, Glass ceramic and steel are less likely to harbour stains than bamboo. When you do get around to washing it, if you need something dishwasher proof check the spec of what your looking for.


Introducing the new Elephant Box Steel & Cork To-Go Cup 

It's taken us a while but we have finally put together a reusable coffee cup that we LOVE. We looked at the takeaway cup and replaced the components with sustainable and reusable ones. Easy. 😊

👉The cup itself is stainless steel which won't impart any flavours but most importantly won't leach any chemicals like plastic can and it won't break or stain. ☕ 

👉We gave it a cork sleeve to protect your hands from the heat! Cork is antimicrobial and sustainable. Did you know that harvesting cork bark assists in the absorption of CO2 (a greenhouse gas) and again, when it reached the end of it's useful life it won't pollute. It also looks and feels great. 🌳

👉The silicone lid makes a snug fit around the rim of the cup and is lovely to drink out of. Silicone is non-toxic, hard wearing and will not break down into tiny micro plastic particles that cause such damage to the environment. 🌊

The steel cup and silicone lid are dishwasher safe and the cork sleeve is easy to keep clean by wiping with a damp cloth. So, if you’re after something that replicates the look and feel of your regular takeaway coffee cup – but without the harmful impact on the environment – check out our new to-go cup. 😊 

If you do need something that will keep your coffee hot for hours, check out our 500ml insulated bottle. We like to design our products to be versatile alternatives to single use. So you can use our 100% steel lid with this bottle or team it with our BPA-free coffee lid for a fully leakproof insulated flask.

Getting hold of a reusable cup is half the battle though, the most important thing is not to forget to take it with you! Our mantra is “no cup - no coffee” Bit harsh, but it certainly works. 


Use Elephant Box to be part of the solution


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