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TNO investigates environmental impact of coffee cups

TNO has been investigating the question 'Is it better for the environment to drink coffee from a disposable or non-disposable cup' in an environmental analysis study for the Disposables Benelux Foundation.

The study compared the following drinking systems:

  • porcelain cup and saucer (non-disposable drinking system)
  • earthenware mug (non-disposable drinking system)
  • polystyrene cup (disposable drinking system)
  • polystyrene insert cup (disposable drinking system) with non-disposable cup system
  • paper cup (disposable drinking system)

To be able to ensure a good comparison, the following unit of measure was used during the study: 1000 units of a hot drink (tea/coffee/chocolate milk) from a dispenser in an office or factory.

Environmental analysis

The aspects examined for the purpose of environmental analysis included the production of the raw materials, the manufacture of non-disposable and disposable systems, use and cleaning of the systems, waste processing and recycling, and transport. In examining the environmental effects, aspects studied included exhaustion of raw materials, climate change, harm to the ozone layer and toxicity. The results of the study were reviewed by a European group of four experts. A full summary of the structure and execution of the study can be downloaded (see below).

Conclusions

The main conclusion reached is that the way in which the individual user uses the non-disposable or disposable system has a direct consequence for the environmental impact of the whole drinking system. For non-disposable systems this concerns the cleaning frequency and energy consumed per clean. For disposable systems it is a matter of whether the cup is recycled or not. The results indicate that disposable coffee systems are less environmentally harmful, though the question 'What is better for the environment, to drink coffee from a disposable or non-disposable cup' can only be answered by examining the specific situation.

Downloads

Ir. Toon Ansems

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