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Paper Cups vs Ceramic Mugs

Ceramic Cups vs Paper Cups

Many coffee chains in the UK and US are now offering discounts if customers take ceramic coffee cups instead of using the stores own paper cups.

Most are lauded for their commitment to “going green” but is there any proof that these changes will have the desired effect and minimise our negative effect on the earth?

Research from the early 1990s suggests that each time you clean a ceramic cup in the dishwasher, it takes about as much energy – and would probably produce as many emissions – as it takes simply to produce a new paper cup!

Gains in dishwasher efficiency since then may have changed the math a little, but if you wash your ceramic cup after every use, you could easily be talking hundreds of cups of coffee before your mug makes more sense than a daily dose of paper. Cleaning the mug by hand may not absolve you, either – although you can help your case by using cold water and be sparse with the washing up liquid – detergents are pretty energy-intensive to make.

The argument is worse when you compare Ceramic Cups with Plastic Glasses

Using china would be an ethical no brainer were it not for Work carried out by Dr Martin Hocking, Reusable and Disposable Cups: an Energy-Based Evaluation. He concluded you’d need to use your ceramic mug 1,006 times for it to break even (in energy terms) with its polystyrene competitor. This is largely because kilns are extraordinarily energy intensive, because using a dishwasher to wash the cup also uses energy, and because mugs get broken. Plastic cups also had a reasonably good recycling infrastructure in place: the UK’s Save a Cup programme still collects millions of plastic glasses from vending machines.

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