UBC Undergraduate Research

A qualitative cradle to grave life cycle analysis of a BC disposable-coffee-cup's sustainability : what is the overall sustainability of disposable coffee cups, and are re-usable coffee cups a better alternative? Connolly, Amanda


Today’s popular market for grab and go disposable items sells the appearance of an easy and convenient consumerist lifestyle. For a lot of people, the reliance on these products has become an important part of their daily activities. One of the best examples of this can be seen through single-use disposable coffee cups. Although their convenience is undeniable, most people do not consider the impact this product has on the environment as they make their daily trips to their favorite coffee shops, and of course along with it, the trips to the garbage can. There are various types of materials that a disposable coffee cup can be made of. One of the most common is the polyethylene paper cup, and is currently used by Starbucks, one of the world’s biggest coffee franchises (Starbucks 2010). Another common material is polystyrene, or Styrofoam, as it is more commonly known. There are many variations within these categories that are also used as disposable coffee cups, such as some that contain low to 100% of recycled material (Franklin 2009). But for the purpose of this assessment, polyethylene paper and polystyrene cups are the two common material choices that will be analyzed along with a comparison of reusable coffee cups. This analysis will be conducted through a qualitative “cradle to grave” life cycle analysis, revealing the environmental impacts pertaining to a general region of BC.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International