Never leave home without your reusable coffee cup

Never leave home without your reusable cup

With Environment Secretary Michael Gove saying the Government is considering seriously imposing a 25 pence 'latte levy' on disposable paper drinks cups, it's time to get used to carrying your own cup with you if you're a regular patron of the nation's take-away coffee shops. So if you've not yet invested a few quid on a biodegradable cup to carry around with you, well, what are you waiting for?

By Coco Piras
You'll find myriad designs on bamboo cups

A staggering 100 billion disposable paper/cardboard cups go to landfill worldwide each year, because the wax or plastic coating on them makes them non-recyclable. Buy a bamboo cup on the other hand, and when, after about three/four years' use, it's going a bit frayed around the edges, simply put it in the compost to biodegrade. Cups are made in China from bamboo fibre and corn starch, and are widely available, with lots of great designs at Ecoffee Cup - prices from £8.95. You can also find re-useable cups made from glass (Joco), silicone (BYOCup), porcelain (Cath Kidston at John Lewis) and cork-covered plastic (Red Gorilla). And for those occasions when paper cups are the only viable option, don't forget Frugalpac paper cups, which are easily recycled in UK processing plants. 

Are we nearing the point when none of us would dream of leaving home without our own cup for take-away drinks... much as we never leave the house without our mobile phones?

Let's hope so because it'll have a big impact on reducing global landfill waste. David McLagan at Ecoffee Cup, which offers a great range of bamboo fibre cups, says it's the environmentally-responsible way ahead and he's delighted the Government seems to be preparing to take action against paper cup waste: 'Having previously thrown out similar initiatives, the call from MPs for a coffee cup tax is fantastic news. The hope is that this time it actually comes to something…  

'With awareness of the single-use coffee cup waste issue growing rapidly, and consumers admitting they would be happy to pay a charge, it is high time for government to sit up and listen. Policy has to be dramatically altered if we are to effectively change the mind-set of the coffee-consuming public.
'Following the huge success of the 5p plastic bag charge, a coffee cup levy is the obvious and necessary next step and will go a long way in changing attitudes and behaviours, by incentivising people to bring their own mugs.
“Recycling is simply not the answer. Reuse is.'
Throwaway paper cups are a huge environmental problem because they're can't be recycled due to the plastic coating on them
Made in Israel from natural cork with an injection moulded plastic liner, the Cork Eco Cup from Red Gorilla will keep drinks hot or cold due to the thermal insulation properties of the cork. Dishwasher safe,  £4.99.
Bamboo travel cup from Ecoffee Cup in William Morris design.
Heavier than a bamboo cup but still easy to carry with you..porcelain travel cup by Cath Kinston at John Lewis, £12
Joco reuseable glass cup with silicone sleeve. Silicone is not biodegradable and is not easily recycled. It is very long lasting though

Bamboo cups are slightly heavier than paper ones (they weigh about 40g), but far lighter than a ceramic mug and they won't get damaged by spending much of the working day in a bag or briefcase. Made from organic bamboo fibre and corn starch, the manufacturing process uses minimal heat. Cups are manufactured in China, close to where the organic bamboo is harvested. They retail from around £8, which might initially seem a bit steep... 'But it will last you for a good three years, so you will certainly get your money's worth from it,' says McLagan, who adds that the cup can be put on the top shelf of dishwashers, and is also sized to fit most car cup-holders.

In case you're wondering about the lid and the finger pad around the centre, they are at present made from silicone, which is hard-wearing and reuseable though not biodegradable and not easy to recycle. However, research is underway to make them from a more environmentally-friendly material.

A cork alternative

A bamboo alternative is the cork cup lined with plastic from from retailers including Leicestershire-based Red Gorilla, which is microwave and dishwasher safe. These re-useable cups should last many years, says Red Gorilla MD Dean Cox and the cups are recyclable. Made in Israel, he says he's impressed with them because they keep drinks hot/cold as the natural cork provides thermal insulation. 'They also have a recyclable plastic screw-on lid which is safer, we think, than a press-on silicone lid, and you won't burn your fingers if the cup's full of a very hot drink. We've been using them at the company and they're very good, very robust, lightweight and they aren't affected by going in the dishwasher.' 

The eco corky cups are cheaper than their bamboo counterparts, at £4.99. And 50 pence from each sale goes to the Aspinall Foundation's Back To The Wild initiative to release gorillas born in captivity back into the wild in The Republic of Congo. 

*When bamboo cups come to the end of their working life, simply crush them, soak in boiling water and put them on the compost heap.



Frugal pac
Martin Myerscough with a Frugalpac cup

The most eco solution when it comes to drinks is for us to carry our own cups - but that may not always be practical.

That's where Frugalpac comes in, a UK packaging technology company founded by entrepreneur and engineer Martin Myerscough, which has invented a novel way of producing easily-recyclable paper cups that are made from recycled paper to boot.

Myerscough explains that existing cups are made using virgin paper from mature trees. A thin layer of plastic film is bonded to the paper while it's flat so when the cup is formed, it's waterproof. But because the plastic is so tightly bonded to the paper, and it's trapped by a seam, it's impossible for the majority of paper recycling plants to separate the plastic from the paper - hence 399 out of every 400 disposable cups end up in landfill or being incinerated.
Frugalpac cups, however, are made from recycled cardboard which is made into a cup first, without adding chemicals, and next a thin plastic liner is lightly bonded to the inside of the cup, and the top of it is rolled over the lip of the cup.
And it's because the plastic liner is so lightly glued in place, that when the cup goes to a standard paper mill it separates from the paper in the recycling process. This means Frugalpac cups can be disposed of in newspaper recycling bins or people's green recycling bins at home. 
*Product testing and certification company Intertek found the carbon footprint of a Frugalpac cup is about half of a 'normal' disposable cup.
*Julie Hall at Frugalpac says the plastic residue from the paper recycling process is most likely to be sent to landfill or incinerated. However, it's possible some recycling plants may know of uses it.