Coffee chains are going back to using disposable cups for health reasons, but we cannot ignore the environment damage their plastic lids can cause.
Major chains Starbucks and Pacific Coffee suspended their bring-your-own-cup/mug programmes last month.
With growing fears of coronavirus infection, hygiene issues associated with bringing your own mug should be addressed.
Bacteria or viruses can survive for days on the cup if it is not washed a few hours after use.
However, as we go back to using disposable cups for health reasons, we cannot ignore the environment damage they can cause.
Even though the disposable cup is mostly made of grease-proof paper, the lid – if a customer wants one – is still made of plastic.
It can take an agonising 5 million years for plastic to decompose.
Some lids get dumped into the ocean, where fish and other marine life eat the plastic, mistaking it for food.
The ingested plastic makes the marine organisms feel full, and they end up starving to death.
Plastic builds up to deadly levels through bioaccumulation.
We end up with fish full of plastic on our plate.
Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced, 6.3 billion tons of which has become plastic waste.
Almost 80 per cent of this waste eventually ends up in the ocean.
Disposable cup lids are made of No. 6 or No. 7 plastic, or polystyrene and “miscellaneous” plastic. No. 6 plastic consists of styrene, an organic compound and suspected carcinogen that is highly flammable, toxic and has been associated with serious health issues.
Most No. 7 plastic contains bisphenol A or BPA, the main ingredient that gives plastic products their transparent shiny look.
There are concerns about its effect on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.
BPA is also suspected of contributing to heart disease and obesity.
We need to bring back the bring-your-own-cup scheme.
Hygiene issues are easy to resolve: just wash it thoroughly after use.
If disposable cups must be used, coffee shops should have the producers promise to collect and recycle the plastic lids.
A dedicated refuse collection system for the lids should be easy and quick to implement.
Alternatively, shops should offer small, tempting incentives for consumers to recycle the plastic lids responsibly.
It is imperative to get this under way, for we are in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak that shows no sign of peaking yet.
Recycle smart, do the right thing!
Published on scmp.com