Chantelle Baistow design coffee infographic

A Cup of Sustainability: Ceramic vs Paper Cups

Coffee shop culture has become more popular than ever and with it a proliferation of containers for drinking hot beverages seem to have taken over the world. With all of the different container choices available today it could be said that a person’s personality is shown through their cup of choice. So are you a disposable paper cup, or are you a more long-lasting ceramic take away cup?

In our culture paper cups are ubiquitous. Whether picking up a cup of coffee from Starbucks or grabbing a cup of joe at work, more often than not most people don’t think twice about taking the paper cup. A few years ago a powerful statement was made when a popular commercial showed the damage caused by plastic water bottles with an image of these bottles circling the globe. Just as powerful of a statement could be shown with a forest of trees being cut down to make a year’s worth of disposable paper cups.

The loss of trees is not the only environmental impact caused by a simple paper cup. A Canadian study at the University of Victoria compared the energy usage in manufacturing reusable cups with that of disposable cups. While manufacturing a ceramic cup took more energy than manufacturing a paper cup, the energy per use for a paper cup remained constant because they are thrown away after one use. This is in direct contrast to a ceramic cup whose energy per use decreases the more often it is used. Additionally, because most paper cups are coated with a polyethylene plastic they are all but impossible to recycle. This means that most paper cups end up in the landfill.

But what of the ceramic cups design? Does anyone really want to carry around a cup with world’s #1 fill-in-the-blank emblazoned across for all the world to see? Today’s modern ceramic design is stylish and trendy. Gone are the common and cliché mugs which end up collecting dust in the back of a kitchen shelf. Instead most people who use ceramic take away cups are now able to showcase their personality while drinking their hot beverage of choice.

When you live in a society which has conditioned you to think of most things in life as disposable, it can be hard to remember that the daily environmental and cultural impact of using disposable items quickly adds up. It may seem like using a ceramic mug won’t make a difference, but it’s important to remember that choosing reusable over disposable will always be the most sustainable choice.

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