Before the Covid pandemic, many of us took our own reusable cups to pick up our daily takeaway coffee. We also thought nothing of sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by or heading into the pub to catch up with friends. Then coronavirus hit and we couldn’t sit inside for months, and even then the scientific advice was to drink outside in the fresh air. Many cafes also stopped allowing reusable cups as a precaution. This means that takeaway cups for hot and cold drinks, allowing us to carry them with us or drink safely on terraces and in beer gardens, are seeing a resurgence, but which type of cup is greener – plastic or paper?

Well, when it comes to disposable cups, you might already have your suspicions, but you may be surprised by the answer. Let’s take a look at which the greener option is for your takeaway cups.


History of Disposable Cups

Ironically, given their recent boost in popularity, the disposable cup first came to prominence in the Spanish Flu of 1918. Previously, people had drunk from communal water sources, passing a shared cup around and each taking a swig. Clearly, with a major public health crisis and growing awareness of germs and hygiene, there needed to be an alternative.


Different designs came and went throughout the 20th century as, particularly in America, the idea of takeaway hot drinks developed and thrived. Retailers have used foam and plastic cups to serve their drinks over the years, with paper coming through as an alternative as well.


Environmental concerns have seen great strides forward in recent years, with manufacturers understanding that our love for takeaway drinks is here to stay and that, if cups are to be disposable, there must also be an effort to make them more green.


Why You Might Assume Paper Cups are Better for the Environment

You might assume that paper cups are better for the environment because they biodegrade more easily. Paper takes between two and six weeks to decompose in landfill, compared with traditional plastics, which might not fully biodegrade for between 500 to 1,000 years!


With this in mind, it seems that there is no contest between the two. With takeaway cups and glasses only being used once before being discarded, surely paper is best.





But landfill isn’t the only destination for these items. As a country, the UK is getting much better at recycling. Using the government’s statistics on household waste in England, we can see that less than 10% of waste was recycled in the year 2000/2001, whereas now that stands at a much more impressive 45.5%.


And with this rise in take-up of recycling has come the advent of technology to allow us to reuse both paper and plastic once we have finished with it. Paper has always been a possibility, but now more and more councils are accepting plastic in their recycling service.


Plastic is ever more recyclable. Nowadays, 78% of post-consumer plastic is recovered in the UK, which makes a huge difference to the sustainability of plastic cups and glasses, making the choice between plastic or paper even more of a level playing field.


We supply both plastic and paper drinking vessels and, as you can see in the individual product descriptions, all of them are recyclable where facilities exist.


Other Factors

Paper cups generate more than a quarter fewer greenhouse gases than their plastic counterparts, they biodegrade more quickly and are currently recycled at a higher rate than plastic cups and glasses. Alternatively, it takes less water and less energy to create a plastic drinking vessel than one made of paper.


In terms of usage, we stock paper cups that can be used for both hot and cold drinks, and plastic glasses for cold beverages. This allows us to commit to sustainability and make sure that the cups and glasses we sell are 100% recyclable and that they can avoid cluttering up landfill altogether.


With the real practical advantages of using disposable glasses and cups in this time when we are learning to live with a major virus, plastic and paper are here to stay in the hospitality industry. They are the health conscious choice, avoiding the need to share drinking vessels or to require staff to pick up items that could be contaminated by customers. By encouraging drinkers to recycle their takeaway cups and glasses, you keep them safe as well as you and your staff, and do so in an environmentally conscious manner.


Plastic or Paper: Which Disposable Cups Will You Choose?

Whether you choose plastic or paper cups, or a combination of both, take a look at our selection of sustainably sourced products to quench your customers’ thirsts.