When you start digging into the numbers around coffee cup waste, things can start to look very bleak very quickly. Exact figures vary, but some estimate that up to 600 billion coffee cups per year end up in landfills around the globe. Even recycling doesn’t help. In fact, according to the BBC over 99 percent of coffee cups actually can’t be recycled since they contain both paper and plastic.

Thankfully, groups large and small are coming up with creative ways to cut down on our coffee cup consumption. Here are a few trends we’re seeing to put a lid on cup waste:

Photo: rCup

The new reusable cup

One very obvious way to cut down on disposable coffee cups is to replace them with ones that have a much longer shelf life.

Hit up your local coffee shop (or Starbuck’s) and you’ll have a myriad of reusable mugs — in every possible color — to choose from. But there are a couple of companies coming up with some very creative ways to make reusable drinking vessels.

  • Huskee Cups makes biodegradable mugs containing 50 percent coffee husks, a by-product of coffee production.
  • Ashortalk’s rCup is made of old single-use coffee cups. Each of their mugs contains at least 6 upcycled paper cups.
  • Ecoffee has a line up of mugs made from eco-friendly bamboo fiber.
  • Stojo’s recyclable mugs collapse down to easily fit in your pocket, backpack, etc.
Cup Club
Cup Club

Just a rental: cup exchanges

Reusable mugs are great in theory, but in reality, they’re all too easy to accidentally forget on your countertop or gym bag. That’s why some groups are letting consumers “check out” and return reusable cups in a library-like program.

CupClub is one such company. Based in the U.K., CupClub members can get a drink from participating coffee retailers served in one of the company’s plant-based plastic mugs. when they’re finished, they can return it to any CupClub locations. Each cup is RFID tagged and registered to the individual’s account, so the company can charge anyone who doesn’t return a cup.

In Colorado, Vessel Works is doing something very similar. Consumers can download a free app to rent a stainless steel Vessel mug and use it to grab their coffee. They then have five days to drop it off at a participating café or Vessel drop-off kiosk, after which the cup is cleaned and restocked.

Big corporations are also beginning to experiment with cup exchange programs of their own. For example, in London’s Gatwick airport Starbucks is trialing a reusable cup program — and even charging people who request disposable cups.

Recyclable coffee cups

Speaking of Starbuck’s, back in March the coffee giant announced plans to test out recyclable and compostable cups — effectively doing away with the whole cups-in-the-landfill situation. This initiative grew out of the Next Gen Cup Challenge, a competition backed by Starbuck’s, McDonald’s and Closed Loop Partners to encourage the creation of more sustainable cup solutions. The Seattle-based company stated that it would pilot designs from some of the Next Gen Cup Challenge’s 12 winners at locations in NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and London throughout 2019.

Seeing as Starbuck’s goes through roughly 6 billion cups per year, they’re singlehandedly responsible for a significant chunk of global coffee cup waste. However, if they can successfully install affordable recyclable/compostable cups in a significant portion of their stores, the coffee behemoth could help make future cup waste numbers look a lot less bleak.

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