Blog Plastic Pollution

Our single-use coffee cup addiction and how to quit it

by Amy Gould December 14, 2020
You may have asked yourself if you’re addicted to coffee, or chocolate, or any number of sensory pleasures. But have you ever considered you might be addicted to single-use products?!

To see the problem, we don’t have to look any further than our daily coffees. Australians discard one billion disposable coffee cups each year. As a society, we are addicted to single-use cups.


Photo by Adnan Ahmed on


The worst part about this – disposable cups are often made from recyclable materials – paper and a thin plastic lining – yet most recycling systems can’t separate these mixed materials. That cup that you use for five minutes, ends up in landfill. And because most people simply put their cup and lid in the bin together, the problem is doubled.

Thrown in landfill, abandoned in the park, these lightweight plastics blow into waterways where they go on to harm our vulnerable ocean wildlife.


Why we need to break up with single-use coffee cups

Think about the lifecycle of a disposable cup. A lot of resources and energy have gone into producing a product that gets used for only five minutes. Doesn’t that seem absurd?

The production and transportation of single-use cups relies on fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that the production of every 10 paper cups results in approximately one kilogram of CO² emissions. It’s even thought that cups emit methane, the same as decomposing food. Natural resource depletion is also an issue, as trees are cut down to produce the paper for all those one-off cups.

Meanwhile our turtles and seabirds are drowning in plastic rubbish, and it’s killing them. If we don’t take action we will have more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.


turtle eating plastic


To stem the tide, we have to fight our addiction. We must consciously produce and use less single-use items, be they derived from wood, cardboard, compostable or other materials. By transitioning from a throw-away to a ‘re-use’ culture we can help our oceans, by stopping the flow of pollution and minimising our carbon footprint.


What’s better – reusable or compostable?

Plant-based compostable cups are starting to be used by many cafes around Australia. But how much better are they? They still create enormous waste, and they rarely make it into a composter. In fact, many ‘bioplastics’ need to make it to industrial scale composters to be able to break down. Yet there are only a handful of these around Australia. If we stick with a disposable culture, we may be simply replacing one problem product with another.

At the end of the day, the best thing for our wildlife and our environment is using re-usable cups, and ditching the waste altogether.


How to kickstart your new re-usable habit

We’re not telling you to give up your morning takeaway coffee ritual (although making your own drink at home is definitely the best way to limit resource use and your spending!). It’s hard to go cold-turkey with any addiction, so we recommend creating a new, healthier habit to replace the old one.

Option 1: Own a reusable cup

Befriend it, take it everywhere you go – your car, your bag, have a spare one on your desk at work – you will soon establish the new habit of thinking about your reusable cup when you go to buy your coffee.

If you are on the run and a disposable cup can’t be avoided, ‘go topless’ by refusing a lid. Then if you have your reusable cup nearby, you can decant your drink into it!

Pottery For The Planet are an exemplary ethical brand who produce reusable ceramic Planet Cups. They have both your coffee needs and eco-conscious desires in mind. Check out their beautifully hand-crafted cups and you might never look back.



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A post shared by The Original Ceramic PlanetCup (@potteryfortheplanet)

Option 2: Borrow schemes

Did you know many cafés are now participating in cup borrowing schemes? Some let you leave a deposit that you get when you return the cup, while others let you return your mug to any participating café. Look for cafes participating in programs like Green Caffeen.

Option 3: Take 5 minutes to sit down with your coffee

Everyone needs an excuse to slow down from time to time. Take a five minute break out of your day and dine in for your coffee.


mug of coffee on a table


It’s time that we as ocean lovers transform our café culture, working together to embrace more socially and environmentally responsible habits. By using the tips above to create new coffee drinking habits, and sharing your experience with others, we can wean ourselves off disposable coffee cups for good.


COVID Safety and Reusable Cups

Did you know that in most states and territories, public health directions still allow reusable cups? Cafes can take extra caution by using the ‘contactless pour’ method: get the customer to put their cup on the counter, pour the coffee shot in, pour the milk in, and allow the customer to place their own lid. By using this method, the only person who touches the cup is you.

The only exception is Queensland, whose latest health direction states that reusable cups aren’t permitted in hospitality establishments. This is an unfortunate step backwards in the fight against single-use items.


Amy Gould is a writer and sustainability advocate living on the Gold Coast. A version of this post also appears on her website