Paper Cups Versus Styrofoam Cups: Surprise Winner

February 12th, 2008 Posted in food, green business, paper, recycle, styrofoam | 6 Comments » Make sure you like EcoJoes on Facebook to stay updated on green ways to save money and help the environment. Just click the "like" button below. Muchas gracias!

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One more drop…Lil’ story; there’s a coffee place near here called Cup A Joe, which has some good coffee and a really nice atmosphere that reminds me of good ol’ Asheville. I’ve been there many-a-time, since they have two locations around NC State.

Anyhoo, last week, mi jefe wondered aloud why Cup A Joe uses styrofoam cups instead of paper. I was like dang, I don’t know. So I wrote them an email asking if they’d considered using paper cups, and asking how they could use styrofoam cups when they knew it made Captain Planet weep green tears. I got a quick reply which showed that they had indeed thought of “green” issues when making their business decisions:

Paper Cups Cause More Trash than Styrofoam Cups

It turns out that when Cup A Joe used paper cups, “almost 100% of [their] customers demand[ed] the added cardboard sleeve”, which the styrofoam cups do not require.

Also as well additionally, it turns out styrofoam is an excellent material for recycling. Here’s what Cup A Joe had to say: “We recycle a large percentage of the cups. Many customers return their used cups for that purpose. It is a small expense for us, but worth it.”

Paper Cups Don’t Biodegrade

Well, they do eventually (as does anything, eventually), but it takes much more time than I’d thought for a paper cup to biodegrade. The gubmint says, “Modern landfills are designed to inhibit degradation so that toxic wastes do not seep into the surrounding soil and groundwater. The paper cup will still be a paper cup 20 years from now.”

Green cafe…Paper Cups Use More Raw Materials and Energy Than Styrofoam (And Cost More)

This was a surprise to me.

“A study by Canadian scientist Martin Hocking shows that making a paper cup uses as much petroleum or natural gas as a polystyrene cup. Plus, the paper cup uses wood pulp. The Canadian study said, ‘The paper cup consumes 12 times as much steam, 36 times as much electricity, and twice as much cooling water as the plastic cup.’ And because the paper cup uses more raw materials and energy, it also costs 2.5 times more than the plastic cup.”

Reusable Cups Are The Way To Go

Final thoughts from Cup A Joe:

“Finally, we have always tried to provide an atmosphere and a level of service that sort of induces folks to sit down and enjoy their coffee in our shops. My guess is that we do more ‘eat-in’ business than all of the Starbucks in Raleigh put together. This sort of business means our people have to hustle to keep up with washing dishes, but also that neither paper, nor cardboard, not styro is needed to consume the coffee. Anyway, hope this helps. And thanks for asking. Frankly, we are surprised that more people don’t ask.”

There you have it. A good eco-friendly reason to (if you must use disposable cups) use styrofoam cups instead of paper cups. It sounded crazy to me at first, but after reading about it, I realized it was crazy like a fox.