Experts Say Most To-Go Coffee Cups Aren’t Recyclable—Here’s What to Use Instead

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"Are the to-go coffee cups you get at chains like Starbucks recyclable? Here's what experts say. Plus, some planet-friendly alternatives."

To-go coffee is extremely popular, and it’s obvious why: It’s a fun and convenient pick-me-up to get you through the day. However, coffee chains are notoriously unsustainable.

One of the biggest issues with coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ is the unsustainable, single-use cups they serve consumers coffee in thousands of times a day. While many of us may think our to-go cups are completely recyclable, the truth is, they’re not.

Why To-Go Coffee Cups Aren’t Recyclable

Mark Driscoll, sustainability expert and founder of the consultancy Tasting the Future, recently told HuffPost exactly why the concept of single-use items is inherently unsustainable. “Paper cups are generally paper-wrapped internally with a polymer (plastic) lining and therefore can’t be recycled and have to generally be sent to landfill,” he said.

Plastic cups used for iced beverages aren’t any better: “Most are made from polypropylene that isn’t accepted in many curbside recycling bins,” he says. In fact, only 3% of #5 plastics—which also includes things like yogurt containers—actually get recycled in the United States.

So, what about the to-go coffee cups marked as “biodegradable” or “compostable“? Driscoll says they typically use a poly (lactic acid) lining and can be composted. With that being said, that doesn’t always happen. Compostable plastic, for instance, can’t be broken down in a home composter. Instead, it needs to be sent to a commercial composting facility, and those are still hard to find in most neighborhoods.

Planet-Friendly Reusable Coffee Cups

As you can see, to-go cups still have a long way to go before they can be called sustainable. That’s why experts recommend avoiding them when you can and instead opting for reusable options.

To get you started on your eco-friendly coffee journey, here are some reusable tumblers that are perfect for your daily coffee fix.

1. W&P Porter Insulated Bottle

If you’re looking for something simple and functional, consider W&P’s insulated bottle. Good for holding hot or cold coffee, this product is made to keep your beverage fresh for hours. It even comes in two sizes—12 ounces or 16 ounces—and in colors like charcoal, cream, and blush.

2. Uncommon Goods Handmade Travel Mug

to-go coffee cups

These eco-friendly tumblers are even more special because they’re handmade. You can take them anywhere, as they fit perfectly in your car’s cupholders. As an added bonus, they’re dishwasher-safe, which saves water.

3. S’well Geode Rose Tumbler

to-go coffee cups

Made with food-grade stainless steel, this tumbler takes sustainability to the next level. It comes in 10 or 18 ounces and can hold both hot or cold beverages. It even protects against condensation.

4. Equator Coffee Lucy Kirk Travel Tumbler

to-go coffee cups

These durable tumblers are designed to keep hot coffee warm and ice coffee cold. They’re portable and perfect for when you’re on the go. Plus, they’re made to benefit people and the planet. With this tumbler, you can reduce your footprint, and every purchase includes a $5 donation to the It Gets Better Project.


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Are the to-go coffee cups you get at chains like Starbucks recyclable? Here's what experts say. Plus, some planet-friendly alternatives.

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