Alternatives to Paper Cups

Alternatives to Paper Cups

The environmental sin and its alternatives: the disposable coffee mug under the microscope

The disposable cup is a significant ecological burden, which is made up of waste of resources and costly disposal. Alternatives in the form of a returnable cup are currently on the rise. In order to offer an incentive, many cafés, chains or bakeries offer a price discount on coffee in reusable cups. But there is still a long way to go before the mountains of garbage are a thing of the past thanks to coffee-to-go. To find out exactly which alternatives are available for paper cups, read on. 

Disposable cups as an environmental sin

The growing ecological awareness and the understanding of the limitation of resources is steadily increasing and ever new environmental sins come into focus. Until recently the plastic bag was considered the number one sin, but the disposable coffee mug has now overtaken it. However, many consumers are unaware of how difficult it is to recycle the paper cup.
The problem is made up of several layers. Since waste paper rarely ends up in the paper cups, many trees have to be felled. The second problem is the chemicals like bisphenol A and the printing ink needed to create a visually appealing product. In addition to that, Polyethylene coatings inside the cup! And also the polystyrene cup are circulated in large quantities.


In addition to production, disposal is also a major problem. After all, the disposable cup must also be disposed of after its short, on average, only 15 minutes of use. Ideally, this happens in the recycling waste, but much more often in public garbage cans, which in turn end up in the incineration plant. Even worse and unfortunately not uncommon: the cups end up in the middle of the street, in parks or in nature. Few people know that the paper cups don’t rot due to their coating.

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A few numbers to illustrate the problem:

219.73 million Americans used disposable cups. Each individual cup requires 0.1 kWh in production, ½ liter of water and 21 grams of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.
In total, 43,000 trees are required for disposable cups in America every year, 1.5 billion liters of water, 320 million kWh of energy and 22,000 tons of crude oil are wasted and 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions are emitted. Reason enough to encourage a rethink.

Alternatives to disposable cups / paper cups

The necessity of an alternative to the disposable cup has been discussed in federal and state politics for some time. There are many ideas – ranging from a  general ban to a tax on disposable cups to a  nationwide deposit system. However, there is by no means consensus on the sense and nonsense of the various proposals. Rather, other possibilities are also being considered up to the present time. The discussions include reusable cups that are limited in the region, an expansion of the individual cup system and stronger incentives for traditional porcelain cups in the shop, without any “to-go”.


Only the ban on disposable cups modeled on the USA has so far been rejected. While the disposable cups are already banned in New York and the new ecological awareness is spreading here.

The individual cup system

departure from the “to-go mentality”, slowing down everyday life and returning to the relaxing cup in the café would probably do some stressed people good. The social acceptance of this variant, however, is seen as having little chance; the mobile variant has long since established itself in everyday life.

The individual cup system is a good alternative. This means nothing other than that everyone brings their cup from home and has it refilled in the shop. In principle, this is already possible everywhere and some shops or coffee chains even offer a price discount on coffee in individual cups.

However, the system also has problems:

First of all, only a few consumers are aware that there is even the option of bringing your own mug. Better communication from café operators could provide more transparency here, at least in the medium term. Second, there are always hygienic concerns on the part of the seller when it comes to refilling a cup that has already been used. The concern is contact with the coffee machine and possible contamination with bacteria. Along with this, legal concerns are also expressed.

The third problem lies with the consumer himself and his habits. Buying a disposable cup and throwing it in the trash at the next corner or littering is easier and less complicated than always having to carry a suitable container with you in case you spontaneously feel like having a coffee. 

The “FreiburgCup”

In Freiburg, the disposable cup is countered on a voluntary basis with the attractively designed “FreiburgCup”. The cup, which can be reused up to 400 times, shows the green colored skyline on a beige background. The deposit cup can now be returned or refilled directly at 16 participating stations.

The biggest problem in Freiburg, however, is the attractive design, because the mug is often taken as a souvenir.

Hamburg – the “Kehrwieder Mug”

Hamburg is currently planning a similar deposit system under the name “Kehrwieder-Becher”. In the Hanseatic city alone, up to 60 million disposable cups are to be saved. The initiative of “El Rojito”, which is based in Hamburg-Ottensen under the slogan “Refill it!”, Shows that there is a general willingness among the population for this. already engaged for more than a year.
Similar models are planned in many other major cities, including Leipzig.

Conclusion: change is coming

  • The disposable cup is an ecological sin
  • It is increasingly being replaced by deposit cups, especially regionally
  • Individual reusable cups are intended to raise awareness of the problem
  • A nationwide system could be initiated with “Recup”
  • There are no taxes or bans, but voluntariness should be encouraged
  • It remains exciting, the search for the ideal solution continues. Which variant appeals to you? Did you already know the “mug hero”? What do you think of the idea?