The Evolution of the Disposable Coffee Cup

The biodegradable coffee cup is still a prevailing issue in today’s society. Remember back in the nineties when ridding the planet of the Styrofoam coffee cup was a major concern for the environment? Well, how has the packaging of these Styrofoam coffee cups evolved? Whitlam Group invites you to read on and learn about the packaging trends of today’s disposable coffee cup market. Check out the rest of our recent trend blogs to stay up-to-date with the trends within the labeling and packaging industry.  But for now, let’s focus on today’s packaging trend topic…disposable coffee cups.

Multilayer substrates with heat barrier technologies make the consumers coffee drinking experience much more enjoyable, but this comes with a price and an ecological influence. These updates within the packaging of these cups are pointing towards a trend of more “green” packaging efforts.

According to an article by Greg Grishchenko of pffc-online.com, the latest technologies for paper cups have been broke up into three main categories: “making it biodegradable or compostable; making it from recyclable or recycled material; and reducing its environmental impact during the manufacturing process.”

Starbucks has been leading the way of developing eco-friendly strategies with their coffee cup packaging efforts. Back in 1997, Starbucks developed the recycled-content sleeve, which was created to avoid “double cupping.” Starbucks was the first organization to introduce FDA approved post-consumer recycled fibers (PCF) for their drinking cups in 2006. Then, just this past November, Starbucks partnered with International Paper (IP) to conduct a pilot project at the Mississippi River Pulp Mill. Starbucks & IP have been working together since 2006 to come up with eco-friendly packaging ideas. After the two organizations partnered for this pilot program with Mississippi River Pulp Mill, they initiated the “cup-to-cup” program, which recycles used paper cups into new cups. This pilot program also marked the beginning of Starbucks adding paper cups with 10 percent of PCF materials made from old office paper. According to Grishchenko’s research, “currently virgin paper containing long fibers is a preferred choice for paper cups from the manufacturing…points of view.”

Starbucks isn’t the only organization out there practicing eco-friendly packaging. According to Grishchenko “Georgia-Pacific currently manufactures [a] air-insulated three-piece cup. Huhtamaki utilizes recycled paperboard for outside layers, having a direct drink contact piece made of virgin paper. Crude hot cup imports from China are represented by a “ripple” cup—a double wall cup with an outside sleeve made of recycled corrugated paperboard.”

While there are no clear guidelines to produce 100 percent recycled paper for disposable cup packaging, a number of professionals believe it’s impossible to create a cup with 100 percent recycled paper. The reason for this is because the fibers are shorter and will be too weak to endure the high temperature of the beverage. Despite all the professionals stating this is nearly impossible,  Starbucks still claims that their cups will be 100 percent recyclable by 2015.

Believe it or not, there has already been a hot paper cup made of 100 percent PCF material. This product is manufactured by a small family-owned company called Moducup LLC, out of New Jersey. Their “Sustain-A Cup” is currently being tested throughout  markets here in the U.S.

Technology continues to evolve within the packaging industry and, as we have been noticing lately, the biggest trend is to produce “green-friendly” packaging. It’s amazing how hard it is to find those old Styrofoam coffee cups at a coffee shop these days. The trend of improving the environment seems to be the biggest wave in the sea of the labeling and packaging industry.

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