KeepCup busts compostable cup myths

compostable cup myths

Reusable cup manufacturer KeepCup has released a list of myths and rebuttals around compostable coffee cups.

“In a bid to do better, many are switching to compostable coffee cups. But are they all they’re cracked up to be?” asks Abigail Forsyth, Founder and Managing Director at KeepCup.

  1. Myth: Compostable cups are readily compostable

“That compostable cup from your morning latte can’t be thrown in your home compost,” Abigail says.

“Most compostable cups require commercial collection systems, and these are few and far between.”

In Australia, The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation Working Group 2018 Report says only an estimated 18 per cent of councils have, or plan to have, kerbside organics collection, and even fewer of these accept compostable packaging. In the United Kingdom, BioMarket Insights reported that the lack of commercial composting infrastructure has led MPs to call for a stop to the promotion of industrially compostable packaging.

  1. Myth: If cups end up in landfill anyway, it’s better to use a compostable than another single-use cup

“Single-use compostable cups that use plant-based plastic (PLA) rather than petroleum-based plastic create different problems, but of equal magnitude to other disposable cups,” Abigail says.

“Across their life cycle, compostable cups have worse carbon emissions than other single-use cups.”

KeepCup carried out a peer reviewed Life Cycle Analysis, which compared KeepCups with two single-use cups – compostable and standard paperboard – and two other reusable cups – bamboo and polypropylene.  KeepCup says the compostable cups were found to have the highest emissions of all cups analysed.

“It takes just 10 uses for a KeepCup to have a lower carbon footprint than a compostable, compared to 24 uses for KeepCup to have lower impact than a standard paperboard cup,” Abigail says.

  1. Myth: If littered, compostable cups will have less impact than other single-use cups

“Littered compostables pose just as much of a threat to marine environments as their non compostable counterparts,” Abigail says. “There is growing concern that compostable packaging may even increase the likelihood of littering, as users throw it away assuming it will compost anywhere.”

  1. Myth: Compostable cups can be recycled

“Most single-use coffee cups can’t be recycled, be they compostable or otherwise. When placed in recycling bins, single-use cups contaminate the waste stream, requiring more resources to sort and remove them or resulting in the entire collection being sent to landfill,” Abigail says.

  1. Myth: With global recycling in turmoil, compostable is the answer

According to the University of California, only 9 per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled.

“The state of global recycling is in crisis. By comparison there is negligible infrastructure to support composting. If we do expand composting infrastructure to benefit soil and food production, our focus must be on composting organic material that is beneficial to farmers. Compost filled with PLA and cardboard are not a solution and of little benefit to useful compost,” Abigail says.

In a statement reported in BioMarket Insights, University of Sheffield  packaging consultant Sarah Greenwood says, “there is a perception with compostable packaging that it turns into compost, but it does not. It turns into carbon dioxide, water or methane with a tiny amount of biomass left behind.”

  1. Myth: Compostable cups drive behaviour change

“Compostable cups promote single-use. They do nothing to drive behaviour change. Single-use is single-use no matter what the material. One use just doesn’t justify the water, energy and materials required to create, and dispose of, packaging,” Abigail says.

“The consumption crisis won’t be solved by switching materials. It will only be solved by changing behaviour, systems and methods of delivery.”

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