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New study shows recyclable coffee cups can reduce carbon footprint and save water - here's how

A study has revealed that a range of recyclable coffee cups can help cut carbon, and save tress and water.

Published: April 22, 2020
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A new study released on Earth Day (22 April) reveals Frugal Cup - a range of recyclable coffee cups made from recycled paper -  have a carbon footprint up to 60 per cent lower and a water footprint up to 74 per cent lower than conventional and compostable cups.

The reductions from the recyclable cup would globally save up to 200 million trees and 215 billion litres of water a year.

The independent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study by Intertek - one of the world’s leading Total Quality Assurance providers - is the first to measure the environmental impact of producing, using and disposing of all types of single use coffee cups, including the whole supply chain, from growing trees, paper-making, plastic production, transport, cup and sleeve manufacture, delivery, and waste processing.

The study

The study found that each conventional single use coffee cup requires 0.58 litres of water to produce and has a carbon footprint of up to 60.9 grams of CO2e per cup.

That’s because conventional, coated and compostable cups are all made from virgin paper. That means we use up to 1.45 billion litres of water and 1.03 million trees to produce more than 2.5 billion coffee cups used in the UK every year and 290 billion litres and 206.3 million trees to make the estimated 500 billion cups used globally.

The carbon footprint of the 2.5 billion cups that go to landfill in the UK is therefore over 152,000 tonnes of CO2e - the equivalent of 33,300 cars being driven for a year.

Globally for the 500 billion cups, (that’s over 30.4 million tonnes) is the CO2 equivalent of providing electricity to 5,155,366 households – a city the size of Paris.

But if the UK moved over to the Frugal Cup, which is made from 96 per cent  recycled paper with no waterproofing chemicals, it could save over a billion litres of water and up to a million trees a year.

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Repeat this globally and we could save 215 billion litres of water and 198 million trees a year.

The carbon savings

recyclable coffee cup

The analysis shows that if Frugal Cups replaced the more than 2.5 billion coffee cups used in the UK every year, the carbon saving would be approximately 90,315 tonnes of CO2e, which is the carbon equivalent of:

  • Driving more than 224 million miles in an average car. Enough to drive around the world 8,996 times and take 19,502 cars off the road.
  • Charging 11.5 billion smartphones. More than enough to charge every smartphone on the planet three times.
  • Sequestering carbon from 117,947 acres of forest – the size of 68,300 football pitches.
  • Providing electricity for 15,291 homes for a year – the size of a town like Port Talbot.

Frugalpac’s chief executive Malcolm Waugh said: “This independent study conclusively proves that the Frugal Cup is the most environmentally friendly paper cup available and could easily become the standard if the major coffee chains accepted it.

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“It’s the only cup that uses recycled paper and whichever way you dispose of it, still produces by far the lowest carbon and water footprints against conventional, coated and compostable cups.

“It’s increasingly clear that people and businesses have to live and work more sustainably. Recycling coffee cups is still a huge problem.

"There is only one dedicated waste facility in the UK to process conventional cups and 53 industrial composting sites that could process compostable cups. Increasing that capacity will cost tens of millions of pounds and take decades to achieve.

“The Frugal Cup has been specifically designed to go through conventional recycling facilities. Moving over to our cup will protect the environment, reduce carbon emissions, save billions of litres of water and stop millions of trees needlessly being cut down to produce single use cups made of virgin paper.”

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The Frugal Cup is already being used in independent coffee shops across the UK and in universities, such as the London School of Economics.

Marcelo Warmling, hospitality and catering manager at the London School of Economics, said:  “Standard virgin paper cups with a plastic liner are extremely difficult to collect, sort, and recycle because of their components and construction.

"That’s why we decided to stock the Frugal Cup across all our catering outlets.

“Manufactured in UK – using a market-leading 96% recycled paper and no waterproofing chemicals – the Frugal Cup delivers considerable reductions in the use of energy and carbon.

"With such impressive Life Cycle Analysis results, the Frugal Cup was the only choice for us. Plus, as it is manufactured using recycled paper, it has already completed several loops of recycling prior to it becoming a cup, which means that the process is truly circular.”

Further Frugalpac products due to be commercially launched in the next few months include a Frugal Bottle for wine and spirits and a Frugal Pot for ice cream, yoghurt, porridge and noodles.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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