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Are coffee cups recyclable?

Written by: Hendrik

Category: Health, Lifestyle, Zero Waste Kitchen

Updated on:


Coffee is by far the best drug out there.

are coffee cups recyclable

I have one or two sweet coffees every day, and I wouldn’t say I liked this stuff when I was still under my parent’s roof.

Now, I wouldn’t go as far as I don’t function without it, but it does make my day that little bit more exciting. Some days, before I go to bed, I get so excited because I know I get to drink my beloved coffee again when I wake up.

But what if you have to rush out of the house to get to work?

You get a drive-in coffee or stop at your favorite barista for your quick caffeine fix.

Do you bring a reusable coffee cup? Or do you opt-in for the “paper cup” with “plastic lid”?

There are several different ways to brew your coffee, but in this article, I would like to talk about what I use to carry my coffee in and learn if coffee cups are actually recyclable?

 First up some numbers, we humans like numbers, right?

  • 16 billion takeaway coffee cups are used every year 
  • 6.5 million trees cut down to make them
  • 4 billion gallons of water used each year
  • enough energy to power 54.000 homes each year –

This is only to make the coffee cups that we use on average for a couple of minutes before they go to a landfill. Crazy numbers, right?

Can I recycle my coffee cup?

The Paper Cup: Even for the conscious coffee lover who recycles his or her cup can do more harm than good. Coffee cups are mainly made from paper with a thin membrane of polyethylene plastic on the inside.

This was once a takeaway cup!

papercup membrane
Are coffee cups recyclable? 11

The glue used to hold those paper cups together partially dissolves when the coffee is poured into the cup, releasing trace amounts of toxins, such as melamine.

This makes them un-recyclable.

You would have to peel the plastic membrane off and discard it separately otherwise, the paper that is sent for recycling will be contaminated with plastic.

The Lid: It is made from #6 Polystyrene and can leach styrene, the newest member of the US List of Carcinogens.  Very few cities can recycle it through their curbside programs.

Check with your local MRF.

Styrofoam: The styrofoam cup is made from polystyrene #6, a petroleum-derived material. In addition to the harm done to the planet, styrene is also considered carcinogenic. It has been shown to leach from polystyrene, especially when the inside liquid was hot. Not so good to be drinking from.

Why you should never drink from a styrofoam cup. 1

Cardboard Sleeve: Most paper cups are already double-sided, which makes cardboard sleeves obsolete. Their only use then is for marketing purposes. Very few cups actually need them, so you don’t burn your fingers while holding your precious beverage.

Factor in the hefty use of resources that goes into producing sleeves, and coffee cups are landing a triple blow to our environment.

I still love coffee though.

Yes, that is a lot of bad news for the little coffee cup. But luckily, it is just bad news for the container and not for the actual beverage. While there are actually some coffee take away cups that claim to be biodegradable or compostable, that sadly is to make the consumer feel good. 

Tim Silverwood says, “Biodegradable cups don’t compost in normal compost. It takes particular industrial composting conditions, which are not available to the bulk of the population.” 

What can the coffee lover of today do?

First of all, I have to also talk about the taste of the coffee. If you are as serious as me about coffee and want to know where the beans come from? What altitude did they grow in? Whether they have been washed or naturally dried?  Well, you might want to skip the takeaway cup altogether and choose one of those 2 options.

are coffee cups recyclable


Take a seat: The best way to enjoy a nice cup of coffee is, in my opinion, while reading a book and having the world go by. In that case, you will be drinking your favorite coffee from a ceramic mug in a cafe of your choice. If you don’t have the time for that…


Buy a reusable coffee cup.

It just makes sense in so many ways, and if you want to be in the league of cool coffee lovers, then they are a must. Oh, and yeah, you help the environment immensely buy reducing your carbon footprint 🙂

Here is a list of my favorite reusable coffee cups.

My favorite Coffee Cups

are coffee cups recyclable

My personal favorite is the KeepCup with its cork sleeve. Not the cheapest, but the coffee taste is excellent since it is glass, and I love the natural look of it. You can get a more affordable version made from BPA free plastic, but I have never considered them since I know that all plastics leach chemicals.

The lid is from Polypropylene #5 (considered safe) and is sealable. It is suitable for driving in your car, but I wouldn’t chuck it in your backpack. Not with coffee in it. The glass is super strong, and I have never had them break on me. The cork will give in after maybe a year or two of daily use. Although I have had mine now for two years and it still holds up pretty good. You could also get them with silicone sleeves. Many different styles from star wars designs, to create your own. 

Are coffee cups recyclable

The Joco is the second cup I have come across. Although I have never used it, again, it is a glass cup, but instead of a plastic lid that is sealable, it comes with a splashproof silicone lid, and a silicone sleeve. It also comes in lots of different colors and even prints. According to my research, the silicon lid can sometimes come off and the sleeve doesn’t insulate that well. All in all a well-designed cup for your coffee 🙂

The Travel Mugs

Are coffee cups recyclable

The Death Wish coffee mug from Klean Kanteen is a leak-proof double-walled travel mug. It keeps your drink hot for up to 6 hours and cold for 24. The pirate version of coffee mugs. Arrr.

Are coffee cups recyclable

The Contigo is for the prize of $8 a pretty great option. Keeps your drink warm and has a stylish look. Some people say the shape of the mouthpiece is a bit weird others are disappointed that it is not dishwasher safe. 

image 6

This is a pretty smart cup if you are really tight on space in your backpack. The Stojo collapses to a disk. The mug is made from food grade silicon and recyclable materials. No BPAs, phthalates, leads, or glues. Food grade silicone cup, straw, and stopper.

image 7

The Zojirushi is a bestseller on Amazon, and for a good reason. This slick-looking travel mug keeps your beverage cold for 24 hours and hot for up to 6. It is not the cheapest.

Fun Fact: Zarf is the term for a coffee sleeve usually made of ornamental metal. So next time you see someone with a paper sleeve around their coffee, you can be a smartarse and tell them it is called a zarf.

Related: Zero Waste Challenge Day 3

If you liked this post, make sure to subscribe for more fun ways to live with less plastic. Do your part and be smart. Thanks from the zerowasteman.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

4 thoughts on “Are coffee cups recyclable?”

  1. I had NO idea that essentially all disposable coffee cups aren’t recyclable. I often get disposable cups when I’m at a local coffee shop, and sometimes even use them at my home. But, not anymore!! At home I will use mugs and when I’m out I will use mugs whenever they’re available. Thank yo for providing me with this useful info. I had no idea I was harming the environment and even harming my own body with toxins. Thank you!!

  2. Hi Hendrik

    I love my coffee(s) in the morning. Here in Australia, is all about espressos. As an America, I go with a “Long Black”, which is 2-3 shots plus hot water. (Close enough).

    My biggest challenge is finding a reusable mug that will fit a large one. I usually fill my Thermos-style one from the States and have to drink the rest from paper one. Whether I give them my mug or not, they always use a paper one while they make. Completely missing the point of the mug.

    So a standard large is about 1.5-2 cups. Mmmm. But the mug can only hold about 1.25 cups. ;( And it’s a Tully’s one (from Seattle), which should hold two cups (16 oz).

    Do the larger ones you have (Death WIsh, Contigo, etc.) include the lid in their volume determination? The Tully’s one didn’t.

    Thanks for the feedback.


    • Hey Dave, 

      thanks for your question. Both the Death Wish and the Contigo hold 16 oz, 473ml without the lid. So you should be fine to have two cups in either. Greetings to Oz, I am moving back next year 🙂


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