and businesses are having a difficult time finding biodegradable coffee
cups that are actually good for the environment. There are a variety of hot
cups that are greenwashing and claiming to be compostable when they do not meet
the appropriate standards and are not accepted by composting facilities.
Knowing which cups are actually compostable and what you should look for is also not very easy.
That's why we've put together a short guide: "How to Purchase Biodegradable Coffee Cups - 4 Things You Need to Know". This guide covers the 4 important things to look for in your biodegradable coffee cups, and those are as follows:
1) Compostability - Make sure the hot cups you purchase are meet the standards of ASTM D6400, D6868, or EN13432 and are certified by the BPI. This ensures that when the hot cups are taken to a commercial composting facility, they're going to biodegradable within 180 days, disintegrate into pieces that are 2mm or less in size, and they won't leech any heavy metals into the compost.
2) FSC Certified - Papaer that is FSC certified means that it comes from well managed forests. In essence that means that there's no clear cutting and that for every tree that's cut down, more trees are re-planted. You should try and make sure the paper used in your hot cups come from well managed forests whenever possible.
3) PCF or EFC - Make sure your hot cups use paper that is chlorine-free. Chlorine bleach releases dioxin, furans and other organochlorines into the air. This can cause sore throats, coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs and studies have shown a relationship between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental/reproductive disorders.
4) Lined with PLA or a Bio-Plastic - Make sure your hot cups are lined with a compostable bio-plastic like polylactic acid (PLA). Over 90% of commericial composting facilities will not accept cups that are lined with PE, polyethelyne, as the PE will contaminate the compost pile.
If you're having trouble finding suppliers of compostable hot cups, I highly recommend starting at the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). The BPI has a list of all vendors whose products are certified compostable. These products are typically made from vendors who are very environmentally conscious and will often meet some of the other qualities we've mentioned above.
As a 5th, bonus tip, I'd also like to recommend looking into the sustainability and the green practices of the companies that sell the compostable cups. I've seen manufacturers really range on their commitments to sustainability and how deep these commitments run in the brands. One manufacturer for instance, World Centric, donates 25% of their proceeds to grassroots environmental organizations and offsets their entire carbon footprint. Looking for these manufacturers who go above and beyond is key in not only purchasing sustainable products, but in purchasing from sustainable companies.