Unlike a regular takeaway cup, biodegradable cups have the ability to degrade in a non-harmful way.
These cups are eco-friendlier alternatives commonly made with a single PLA coating. This coating is a bioplastic, derived from plant-based materials such as corn starch or sugarcane.
What are bioplastics?
Bioplastics are made from plants unlike regular plastics that are made from oil.
Unlike oil based plastics, which stay present as waste for many years, bioplastics are renewable and can biodegrade within 12 weeks. The carbon footprint of bioplastic is also much lower than petroleum based plastics.
How can I check my cup is biodegradable?
Manufacturers mark biodegradable cups on the print.
If you are still uncertain, ask the business or supplier.
Where should I dispose my cup?
You can dispose of cups with your food waste and have everything collected together to be taken to a composting facility. Here, the cups will biodegrade into compost in less than 12 weeks.
We recommend checking with your local council to see that food waste goes to a composting facility. If they don’t offer the facility, you can compost your cup at home.
What are the benefits of a biodegradable cup?
Helps fight waste, pollution and reduces fossil fuel usage
There’s a lot of confusion and misleading information online
about these two items at the moment, we’ve seen many retailers incorrectly
describing these items. As a result we thought we’d write a quick post to clear
up the differences and set the record straight a bit.
Biodegradable and compostable cups have seen a meteoric rise in popularity since 2018 with the unprecedented shift towards sustainable disposables and biodegradability. The market has responded to the increased demand with a range of new biodegradable items to replace many ranges of traditional disposable products. The problem is that because the items are so new to the market, and still in their infancy in some cases, a lot of the information you’ll find online is either out of date or incorrect.
When the demand for biodegradable items first spiked, the
immediate problem was providing a replacement for plastic cups. These are
widely used in a huge range of situations and by lots of different consumers.
They’re used in the home, commercially at bars, festivals, as a safe replacement
for glassware, medically in the NHS etc.
The first attempt at providing a biodegradable alternative was to offer a traditional plastic polymer with an additive which allowed the physical structure of the raw material to break down into pieces, seemingly resulting in the product disappearing as if by magic. Unfortunately, there proved to be a fairly big catch to this type of material. It did indeed break down, but the oil based structure doesn’t disappear as such, it goes through a miniaturization process and breaks down into tiny pieces. These pieces are now commonly referred to as “microplastics”.
This should set off alarm bells fairly quickly due to the
amount of negative press coverage of recent times. By breaking down the plastic
compound into tiny microscopic pieces it allows the oil based plastics to enter
our food stream and our water supply. This will happy as they’re absorbed into
fertile earth or washed away through streams into reservoirs. Once they end up
in the ocean they’ll be consumed by fish and other creatures, again ending up
in our food supply.
More recently, things like plastic pint glasses and water cups have been produced using an alternate bio-plastic based material called PLA. This is a cornstarch based material and can be safely composted without the inherent issues of an oxo-biodegradable plastic product.
If you’re looking to replace plastic glasses with a biodegradable alternative, you should be looking at a compostable cup and checking it’s not described as “oxo-biodegradable” and that it doesn’t mention plastic compounds such as polypropylene or polystyrene. These are products that will end up as microplastics and are widely rumored to be banned in the UK at some point in the near future.
Unfortunately there is a price disparity between oxo-biodegradable and PLA compostable cups, the oxo-biodegradable cups are considerably cheaper due to plastic raw material being much more affordable than cornstarch based PLA. The simple fact of the matter is though that these old oxo-biodegradable items are simply not suitable for customers looking to replace their disposables with eco-friendly compostable / biodegradable plastic cups. Many more ethical suppliers will actually display a warning that accurately describes what they’re selling, but likewise many will simply use the price benefit of an oxo-biodegradable plastic cup as a sales advantage.
Moreover, to be absolutely sure you are purchasing a sustainable bio based product seek out items also marked “Compostable” rather than just “Biodegradable”. The desk I type this from is biodegradable, but it won’t break down in compost as it’s not compostable (to use the compostable term means the item will completely break down inside 12 weeks).
We carry a range of biodegradable paper cups; the difference between these and the regular range of disposable cups boils down to the material used for the inner lining. All paper cups used in the UK feature some sort of inner lining, this is what gives the cup the ability to hold liquids. Without this lining the cup would absorb water and disintegrate halfway through drinking your morning Coffee!
Traditionally disposable cups use a PE (Polyethylene) lining for this purpose, our range of biodegradable paper cups use PLA (Polylactic acid) instead. This is a natural substance derived from corn starch, it is not oil based.
Biodegradable cups featuring this corn starch PLA coating can be composted at any suitable facility and they will break down completely naturally.
We also stock matching lids for these cups made from CPLA, again these are 100% compostable items and are not oil based.
Our range of biodegradable cups currently includes hot drinks cups in 4,8,12 and 16oz sizes. We also stock biodegradable soup cups in 8, 12 and 16oz sizes, again with matching compostable lids available.
We’re commonly asked for more information on our popular range of Sugarcane items, what they’re made from, what they feel like, why they’re biodegradable etc. Our entire line of Sugarcane products are made from a substance called Bagasse; this is a by-product of crushed sugarcane and has traditionally been considered a waste product. For every 10 tonnes of sugarcane produced, there is around 3 tonnes of waste Bagasse, this can now be pressed and pulped into biodegradable board products such as plates and bowls.
Bagasse has fantastic eco-friendly credentials; its production has no additional impact on natural resources and is 100% compostable + biodegradable. It requires no additional plastic coating, which has traditionally been an issue with the more common PE (polyethylene) coated paperboard style of plate. As the sugarcane plates are a 100% natural composition, they will naturally break down over time, they’re completely compostable.
In terms of the product itself, it’s best described as a matte-effect heavyweight card material in texture, much thicker than a standard disposable plate and feels more substantial. It’s a highly rigid product, making it very well suited to scenarios which call for a disposable plate or bowl, but also require a premium and more heavyweight product. We always recommend a sugarcane / Bagasse product where the customer intends to serve meal sized quantities of hot / oily foods for example.
We stock a whole range of items in this material including:-
Round plates (6, 7, 9 and 10” sizes)
Square plates (15, 20 and 26cm sizes)
Bowls (12 and 16oz sizes)
Food containers (Various sizes)
All these items can be safely used in the microwave; they can even be refrigerated and frozen making them a great choice for environmentally friendly takeaway use.