Paper coffee cups are not eco-friendly after all

Paper coffee cups are not eco-friendly after all

Paper coffee cups may not be the most environmentally friendly alternative to plastic cups we’d hoped for. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have found that these seemingly eco-friendly substitutes can be just as harmful as their plastic counterparts.

As disturbing news continues to emerge about plastic pollution polluting every part of our planet, consumers are choosing what they believe to be more eco-friendly.

A notable trend has been the growing selection of paper coffee cups. Many cafes have switched from plastic to paper cups, often with paper lids. However, this well-intentioned change may not be the ideal solution.

Studying disposable paper cups

In a carefully designed study, the Gothenburg team looked at the effects of disposable cups made of different materials on butterfly mosquito larvae.

“We left paper cups and plastic cups in wet sediment and water for a few weeks and followed how the composted chemicals affected the larvae. All mags negatively affected mosquito larval development,” noted study lead author Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth.

Because the paper itself is oil-free and water-resistant, it requires a surface coating to be suitable for food packaging. This coating is a layer of plastic designed to protect the paper from the material that carries it, such as a piping hot coffee from your favorite cafe.

Paper cups are toxic

Recently, this protective plastic film is made from polylactide (PLA), a type of bioplastic that usually comes from renewable materials such as corn, cassava, or sugarcane.

Although it’s often labeled as biodegradable—meaning its ability to decompose faster than conventional oil-based plastics under the right conditions—studies show that PLA can have toxic effects.

Professor Carney Almroth points out the major environmental challenge posed by bioplastics, which do not break down properly when they end up in the environment, in water.

“There is a risk that plastic remains in the environment and microplastics can cause it to be ingested by animals and people, as other plastics do. Bioplastics contain at least as many chemicals as normal plastic.

A potential health hazard of paper cups

But what about the direct health effects on people? “Some chemicals in plastics are known to be toxic, others we don’t know about,” said Carney Almroth.

“Paper packaging also presents a potential health hazard compared to other materials, and it is becoming more common. We are exposed to plastics and related chemicals through food contact. “

Transformative changes are needed

The authors of the study emphasize the need for transformative changes to address the ongoing environmental and health challenges caused by plastic pollution.

“When disposable products came on the market after the Second World War, there were huge campaigns to educate people to throw away these products, it was not natural for us! “Now we have to go back and leave a disposable lifestyle,” said Carney Almroth.

“It’s better to bring your own mug when you buy coffee. Or by all means, take a few minutes, sit down, and drink your coffee from a porcelain mug.”

At the global level, negotiations are currently underway at the UN, aimed at negotiating a binding agreement to stop the proliferation of plastics in our society and the natural environment.

Eliminating problematic plastics

As a member of the Scientific Committee on Plastics Action (SCEPT), Carney Almroth and his fellow scientists support the cause by providing valuable scientific input to these consultations.

This coalition strongly advocates for the elimination of excessive and problematic plastics. They also emphasize the importance of due diligence to ensure that we do not simply replace one harmful product with another.

“We at SCEPT want transparency requirements within the plastic industry that enforce clear reporting of what chemicals are contained in all products, just like in the pharmaceutical industry. But the main goal of our work is to reduce the production of plastic,” said Carney Almroth.

More about eco-friendly cups

In today’s fast-paced world, disposable cups have become an everyday thing for many. But with concerns about environmental degradation, the demand for eco-friendly alternatives has increased. Eco-friendly cups, made from sustainable materials and designed to have a minimal impact on the environment, have emerged as a front in this green revolution.

Material things are important

Eco-friendly cups come from renewable materials. Manufacturers make these cups from materials such as bamboo, paper taken from carefully managed forests, or even from bioplastics taken from plants. Unlike regular plastic cups, which can take hundreds of years to decompose, the eco-friendly ones break down quickly, reducing the pressure on our landfills.

Low carbon footprint

Producing conventional plastic cups releases significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. In contrast, eco-friendly cups often contain less carbon. For example, bamboo grows rapidly, absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide, which eliminates the emissions of the product it is made of.

No harmful chemicals

Many plastic cups contain chemicals such as BPA, which can leach into drinks and pose health risks. On the other hand, Eco-friendly cups steer clear of harmful additives. By choosing these, consumers can enjoy their drinks without worrying about ingesting toxic chemicals.

Reusability and reusability

While many eco-friendly cups are thrown away, an increasing number now come as reusable options. Materials like stainless steel and glass make for strong, long-lasting cups. And when these eco-cups reach the end of their life, many can be easily recycled, further reducing waste.

Supporting sustainable businesses

By purchasing eco-friendly cups, customers support businesses that are committed to sustainable practices. This demand can change market dynamics, encouraging more companies to adopt environmentally friendly strategies.

In short, switching to eco-friendly cups is not just a trend, it’s a necessary step towards creating a sustainable future. By making the switch, consumers can enjoy their favorite beverages guilt-free, knowing they are making a difference. As more people adopt these greener ways, the positive impact on our planet will only continue to grow.

The research is published in a journal Environmental Pollution.

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