How To Properly Recycle A Coffee Cup

starbucks cup

It seems that these days almost everyone is a coffee addict of some sort… whether you’re getting straight black coffee, a latte, or a hot tea, you are most likely sipping these delightful drinks in a hot paper cup.

Americans currently throw away 25 billion coffee cups each year…. and hundreds of thousands of them are mistakenly thrown in the recycle bin each day (This is called optimistic recycling). But, as much as you may want to recycle your coffee cup, it will ultimately end up in the landfill.

Yep, that’s right. Coffee cups cannot be recycled. But that doesn’t mean that all of it can’t be recycled.

Let’s break it down.

How To Recycle Your Coffee Cup

Coffee, tea, chai… whatever you’re getting, it is most likely served to you in a hot paper cup.

Recycling can get pretty confusing at times, but basically the rule of thumb is that anything that is mixed material cannot be recycled.

These are things like chip bags (plastic and foil lined together), candy/granola bar wrappers (plastic and foil), and tea packets (paper and plastic lined together).

Coffee cups are a mixed material. The cup on the outside is paper, but inside it has a thin plastic lining, therefore deeming it for the landfill.

anatomy of a starbucks paper cup

So, ultimately no hot paper cups can ever be recycled and will always end up in the landfill. That’s a lot of cups, considering there’s 25 billion going in the landfill each year (and they stay there for 500+ years).

However, there are two other items of the cup that can be recycled.

All clean paper and cardboard can be recycled, therefore you can recycle the cardboard sleeve on your coffee cup.

You may also recycle the plastic lid on your coffee cup… as long as it is not #6 plastic.

Plastics 1-5 and 7 can be recycled. #6 cannot be.

So, if you look in the little chasing arrow recycling symbol of your coffee cup and you notice that it has a little number 6 on the inside, it is landfill.

But, if there is a 1-5 or 7 in the symbol, you can recycle it! Woo hoo! recycling symbol 3

I believe all Starbucks lids are recyclable, but every coffee shop is different so it’s best to double-check.

So, there you have it.

Paper Cup: Landfill

Cardboard Sleeve: Recycle

Plastic Lid: Recycle (as long as it is not #6)

As Good As It Gets?

Unfortunately, even properly recycling your hot coffee cup is still not getting to the root cause of the problem, which is that we have a huge waste issue in our world.

Even if you properly recycle the cardboard sleeve and plastic lid, buying a hot paper cup is still contributing to our growing problem of waste.

So, what can we do?

Reduce Waste At Its Source

We need to cut the problem at its source and not accept trash as an acceptable vessel for our drinks.

Bringing your own reusable mug/tumbler is a great way to do your part to reduce waste.

For Christmas this past year, my sister got me this white YETI mug and I carry it with me everywhere.

I either leave it in my office during the week or have it in my bag when I’m out and about on the weekends.

I always get tons of compliments on it and every time I get a coffee or tea at Starbucks, I get a discount! (I’m currently sipping on a latte in Barnes & Nobles right now with my reusable mug hehe).

It makes me feel really good every time I tell the barista, “Wait, I have my own cup!” They are always pleasantly surprised and more than happy to give me my discount.

I know that carrying reusable water bottles like Hydroflasks are super popular, which is awesome! But I think this increase in popularity of reusable cups definitely needs to become more of a thing at coffee shops.

The great thing about YETI’s is that they can hold hot and cold drinks. So you won’t need to clunk around a big reusable water bottle and mug with you wherever you go.

Making simple switches like this can save you, over time, a lot of money while helping our environment.

Once again, reusables are knocking it out of the park by being better for your wallet and the environment.

Gosh, I love that.

I’m curious, do any of you ever bring a reusable cup with you when ordering coffee? If not, are there any barriers as to why you haven’t made the switch yet?

Remember, making small changes every day has a HUGE impact and will eventually just become habit.

2 thoughts on “How To Properly Recycle A Coffee Cup”

  • I have heard that if you do the drive-thru window at Starbucks and use your own cup, they still make it in their cup and then put it in your cup. Hidden waste.

    • Yes!! Unfortunately Starbucks will still put your drink in a plastic cup before transferring to your reusable one in the drive-thru. I learned this the hard way! I now just go inside if I want a coffee 🙂

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