If you are like me, you would guess a paper cup is much more eco-friendly then its evil step sibling, the Styrofoam cup. However, in many cases, a Styrofoam cup is the greener option. Most people instantly think paper is more eco-conscious because it is recyclable, but truth be told, most paper cups intended for hot beverages are not recyclable. Here is a quick overview of the two contenders.
InsulationIt is obvious a Styrofoam cup insulates much better than paper. Just fill up both cups with hot liquid and hold them in your hands. The Styrofoam cup will be cool to touch, while the paper cup radiates the hot liquid inside the cup. The solution to the paper cup problem? Add more paper. Paper cup users are slipping on cardboard sleeves to help hold the paper cup without being burnt. The most common place this phenomenon has become the norm is in coffee shops. While most hot-cup sleeves are made from recycled materials and are recyclable, it is still an added item to a simple Styrofoam cup.
Eco-friendlyIf you’re concerned with making the eco-friendly choice between the two, Styrofoam wins on many fronts. Unless you’re using a paper cup that is biodegradable (most are not), there are some aspects to consider. A standard paper cup takes more than 20 years to decompose in a landfill environment. This is mostly due to the wax lining on the inside of the cup. The trendy paper cup also takes more energy, raw material and money to make. For example, in comparison to Styrofoam, a paper cup requires 12 times the amount of water, 36 times the amount of electricity and costs double the amount of money to produce. Shocking, I know.
When it boils down, it appears that going with Styrofoam is more eco-friendly compared to a paper cup. There are better ways to drink your hot beverages, such as using a reusable tumbler, coffee mug or other container you wash and use over and over. If you have to use a disposable paper cup, find out if the establishment you are buying your drink from uses biodegradable cups. If they do, that is the way to go. As the cup industry moves away from the traditional method of manufacturing the current unrecyclable paper cup into a more biodegradable version, the battle between Styrofoam and paper cups may take a turn. In a scenario where the paper cup is biodegradable, a paper cup may win.