There is an ongoing debate happening worldwide about the environmental impact of disposable paper versus polystyrene cups, the latter better known worldwide as Styrofoam cups. Which option is greener, and why does it matter?
In this blog, we look at both options considering various properties such as thermo-insulation, recycling, production cost, energy efficiency and hygiene. Depending on these factors, you may want to reconsider your choice for your business and in everyday living.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) cups insulate better than paper – imagine pouring hot beverage in both cups. Polystyrene cups keep both hot and cold drinks at their optimum serving temperature for much longer than the paper alternative.
The thermo-insulating effect avoids both burns and the need for ‘double-cupping,’ which is widely used to shield paper cup holders from hot liquids through an additional protective layer known as hot-cup sleeves. Simply put, polystyrene cups do not need added insulation.
Water and Energy Efficiency
A 2006 study by Dutch organisation TNO showed that it takes 20 per cent more fuel and nearly twice as much water to manufacture paper cups. Moreover, 30 per cent more fuel is needed to transport the raw material for paper cups.
Similar more recent studies indicate that EPS cups require less electricity and wastewater to manufacture than paper cups, which makes EPS cups the most energy efficient in comparison to disposable paper cups.
Hebcooler manufacturers a range of EPS Cups and tubs under the Isolite brand. The Hebcooler EPS is 100% recyclable. In fact, the scrap from the manufacturing of Hebcooler EPS Cups and Tubs and any returned polystyrene are used to make Isowood dado rails and skirting boards.
Waste and Hygiene
The application of steam in the production process – although in less quantity than in the paper cup production – effectively sterilises and makes the EPS cups highly resistant to fats, salts, acid, fungi and other micro-organisms.
By comparison, paper cups can produce excessive wastage and hold forty times more waste and contaminants than EPS cups. Furthermore, EPS accounts for less than 0.1% of the weight in municipal waste.
Overall, EPS cups produce less atmospheric emissions, waterborne wastes, industrial solid waste and post-consumer waste than an LDPE or wax-coated paperboard cup. Due to its limited process pollutants, EPS proves to be the most environmentally friendly option for disposable cups.
As seen above, a paper cup takes more energy and raw material to make, which can increase the production costs substantially.
Therefore, EPS cups are highly cost-efficient because EPS requires significantly less raw material input, labour, energy and production costs than the paper alternative.
Most people instantly think paper is more eco-conscious because it is recyclable, and must be the greener option. However, it is not always the case, unless you opt for a paper cup that is entirely biodegradable.
Unfortunately, most paper cups intended for hot beverages are not recyclable. In some countries like Singapore, most paper cups are not even deemed recyclable because of hygiene considerations.
And while most hot-cup sleeves are made from recycled materials and are indeed recyclable, these are still an added item to an EPS cup – with additional impact on production and wastage.
Although the biodegradable paper option needs to be considered for recycling purposes, the standard paper cup will take as much as twenty years to decompose in a landfill, because of its wax lining component.