I was at the farmers market with my girlfriend last week, and she picked up a coffee to sip while we walked around. It's been a minute since I visited this particular market, and they changed up their whole coffee situation. Instead of the Styrofoam cups (*shudder*), they now use a compostable paper cup that I'd never seen before: EarthChoice.
Like with anything making claims like "renewable" and "sustainable," I was a little bit wary of these new cups. Sure, they were better than Styrofoam, but how much better, right? Those corn cups make a lot of eco-friendly claims, but they're not nearly as squeaky green as they claim to be!
Just plain old paper would be compostable on its own, but when it comes to hot beverage cups, you need some sort of lining to keep the liquid from seeping out and getting coffee on your shoes. The lining is the thing that really is going to determine whether you can compost this EarthChoice cup. These cups are lined with NatureWorks Polymer. So, what does that mean?
I looked into what NatureWorks Polymer is, and it's made from "Ingeo," a trademark name for corn-based plastic. According to the NatureWorks site, you can't compost these suckers in your backyard bin, they need to go to an industrial site. They also won't biodegrade in the landfill. So, how green is this cup? It's certainly better than the Styrofoam that the market was using before, but of course it's not as good as bringing your own reusable to go mug.
Pros of Paper Cups Lined with Corn Plastic
It's not compostable in the back yard, but corn plastic does have some benefits over conventional plastic.
- If your town has municipal composting, you can divert these from the landfill.
- Unlike paper cups lined with conventional plastic, these aren't petroleum derived.
- They may be recyclable in some areas at some point.
Cons of Paper Cups Lined with Corn Plastic
These cups are better than some disposable alternatives, but they have their downsides.
- You can't recycle them now.
- They don't biodegrade in the landfill.
- You can only compost them in a municipal composting facility, not a backyard bin.
- The corn is most likely genetically modified.
- Instead of growing food for people, we're growing corn to line disposable cups on arable land.
So, are these cups an eco-friendly choice? I think they do OK at the beginning of their lifecycle, but when you're talking about sustainability, you have to look at a product's total lifespan. Once the coffee's gone, chances are these cups are going to pile up in the landfill, where they don't break down. Not so green, if you ask me.
The best disposable cup is always to not choose a disposable cup in the first place. That way, you don't have to worry about weighing pros and cons. Just wash, rinse, refill!