The Disposable Dilemma: Why Single-Use Coffee Cups are a Big Problem

January 14th, 2019.

Author: Nicholas Cleary

There’s no denying that Australian’s love a good cup of coffee.  In fact, every half hour of every day, we consume approximately 50,000 cups of it. While the coffee industry continues to grow and deliver a range of economic benefits to stakeholders around the world, its success remains marred by an issue that we as consumers are both the cause of, and answer to.

Annually, an estimated 1 billion single-use coffee cups are disposed of around Australia alone, and contrary to popular belief, the inclusion of polyurethane plastic in these cups makes them extremely difficult to compost or recycle. Most recycling facilities around Australia are currently unable to process them, and the amount of waste produced per capita continues to increase at a rate of 1% per annum. Each year we produce 64 million tonnes of waste; that’s 2.7 tonnes for every individual.

These statistics are representative of a larger unsustainable waste management trend that we as a national community have fallen into. If we continue along this path, scientists predict that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. So, who exactly does the blame fall on, and what can we do to reverse these alarming trends?


While it’s easy to point fingers, we all need to stand up and take responsibility for our actions. Opt to bring a reusable cup next time you visit your local barista. More and more cafes, including Ground Control, are joining the responsible cafes movement and offering patrons a discount on their beverage if they do so.


Since introducing our discount program, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of customers bringing a keep cup to the roastery, and it continues to gain momentum month-to-month. This has also spawned an exciting collaboration with local manufacturer Pandanus Pod, who produces hand-made ceramic cups, mugs, homewares and jewellery.


If you work in an office, pool reusable cups together so there’s always one available to grab and go. Every coffee, every day, helps make a big difference to your overall impact on the environment; and remember, if everyone brought a keep cup for their coffee, there would be absolutely no problem to begin with. If you do get caught without your own cup, always remember to separate and recycle the plastic lid on your disposable one, as it’s completely safe to do so.

As a business, it’s our responsibility to look at every facet of our operation and determine where we can reduce our environmental impact. At Ground Control, we purchase all food packaging from BioPak, who offer carbon neutral alternatives to traditional disposable packaging options. All their products are plant based, not oil based, and are 100% commercially compostable.


We have also begun transitioning away from using 1kg bags for commercial delivery, giving clients the option to instead receive their coffee in 5kg or 10kg food-grade stainless-steel drums. These drums offer a safe, sustainable and reusable alternative, and the initial response from both clients and customers has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s amazing to see so many of our partner cafes jumping at the idea and taking them on board!


While it’s likely that in the coming years federal legislation will be introduced to put a ban on all single-use plastics and packaging, it’s up to all of us to begin doing our part right now. Have a chat to your friends and family and let them know that most disposable cups aren’t actually recyclable, and become part of the solution by bringing your own when you head out for your morning brew. Change truly does start with us!