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A disposable paper cup
Disposable plastic cups
A disposable foam cup containing coffee

A disposable cup is a type of tableware and disposable food packaging. Disposable cup types include paper cups, plastic cups and foam cups.[1][2] Expanded polystyrene is used to manufacture foam cups,[3] and polypropylene is used to manufacture plastic cups.[4]

As they are produced for single use, disposable cups and other similar disposable products constitute a major source of consumer and household waste,[5] such as paper waste and plastic waste. It has been estimated that the average household discards around 70 disposable cups every year.[5]

108 billion cups are consumed in the US per year,[6] and the UK uses an estimated 2.5 billion paper cups every year.[7]


The disposable cone-shaped paper cup was invented in 1908 by Lawrence Luellen, and in 1912 Luellen and Hugh Moore began marketing the Health Kup, another paper disposable cup.[8] The Health Kup was designed to create a means for people to drink water from public water barrels without spreading germs, which occurred when people would use a common (shared) cup or a dipper to hold the water.[8] The Health Kup was later renamed to Dixie Cup, and was named after a brand of dolls.[8] Luellen and Moore later developed a disposable paper ice cream cup, which included lids with images of sportspeople, movie stars and animals.[8]

Commercial uses

Some companies, such as coffee retailers[9] and doughnut shops,[10] sell their products in disposable cups. A 2011 book estimated that a chain of doughnut shops used one billion disposable coffee cups in a year, enough to circle the Earth twice.[10] A 2012 article in OnEarth said that Starbucks used over four billion disposable coffee cups in 2011.[11] The Cup Noodles brand of instant noodles uses expanded polystyrene foam cups to contain the product.[12] Hot or boiling water is added to the dried noodles in the container, which cooks the product in a few minutes.[12] Nissin Foods began marketing the product in foam cups in the early 1970s.[13]


The manufacturing of paper cups contributes to water pollution when chemicals such as chlorine, chlorine dioxide and reduced sulfides enter waterways.[2] The manufacturing of foam cups contributes to air pollution when pentane is released into the air.[2] The plastic content in plastic-coated paper cups contributes to the plastic pollution problem, when cups are disposed as litter.

Recycling and other environmental measures

The curbside recycling of polypropylene containers has gradually increased in some developed countries, but is still rather limited.[4]

McDonald's switched from foam cups to paper cups in 2014,[6] and is moving to recycle paper cups in the UK, as of 2016, in partnership with Simply Cups and James Cropper.[7]


Several coffee chains offer a discount if the customer brings along their own cup.[14]

At festivals such as the Bavarian Oktoberfest, costs due to theft or breakage are avoided without using disposables: The customer pays an upfront fee for a drinking glass or mug and receives a rebate at its return.

A disposable kulhar clay bowl with dahi (curd)

A kulhar is a traditional handle-less clay cup from South Asia, which are being used as alternatives to plastic cups due to their biodegradable nature. they are typically unpainted and unglazed, and meant to be disposable. The most interesting feature of kulhar is not being painted and that differentiates a kulhar from a terra-cotta cup. The kulhar cup is unglazed inside out.[15] Since kulhars are made by firing in a kiln and are almost never reused, they are inherently sterile and hygienic.[16] Bazaars and food stalls in the Indian subcontinent traditionally served hot beverages, such as tea, in kuhlars, which suffused the beverage with an "earthy aroma" that was often considered appealing.[17] Yoghurt, hot milk with sugar as well as some regional desserts, such as kulfi (traditional ice-cream), are also served in kulhars.[18] Kulhars have gradually given way to polystyrene and coated paper cups, because the latter are lighter to carry in bulk and cheaper.⁠[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ Hill, M.K. (2010). Understanding Environmental Pollution. Cambridge University Press. p. 519. ISBN 978-1-139-48640-8.
  2. ^ a b c Worrell, W.A.; Vesilind, P.A.; Ludwig, C. (2016). Solid Waste Engineering: A Global Perspective. Cengage Learning. p. 395. ISBN 978-1-305-88835-7.
  3. ^ Webster, K. (2000). Environmental Management in the Hospitality Industry: A Guide for Students and Managers. Environmental Management in the Hospitality Industry: A Guide for Students and Managers. Cassell. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-304-33234-2.
  4. ^ a b Szaky, T. (2014). Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It. BK currents book. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. p. pt70. ISBN 978-1-62656-026-0.
  5. ^ a b Zimring, C.A.; William L. Rathje, C.E. (2012). Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. SAGE Publications. p. pt1026. ISBN 978-1-5063-3827-9.
  6. ^ a b "McDonalds' Switch to Paper Cups Source of New Demand for International Paper". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  7. ^ a b "McDonald's UK To Trial Plastic-Coated Paper Cup Recycling". 25 January 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Aydelott, J.; Buck, D. (2007). Read Write Respond Using Historic Events. Teacher Created Resources. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-4206-8237-3.
  9. ^ Chronicle, San Francisco (November 13, 2015). "Much ado about a Starbucks disposable cup". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Miller, G.T.; Spoolman, S. (2011). Cengage Advantage Books: Sustaining the Earth. Cengage Learning. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-133-16928-4.
  11. ^ Palmer, Brian (April 2, 2012). "Meet the Change Makers: Starbucks's Quest for a Better Cup". OnEarth Magazine. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Roe, M. (2004). Market Research in Action. Thomson Learning. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-1-86152-938-1.
  13. ^ Harlan, J. (2011). Ramen to the Rescue Cookbook: 120 Creative Recipes for Easy Meals Using Everyone's Favorite Pack of Noodles. Ulysses Press. p. pt11. ISBN 978-1-61243-004-1.
  14. ^ "Environmental Stewardship". Starbucks Coffee Australia. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  15. ^ Jasleen Dhamija (1970), Indian folk arts and crafts, National Book Trust, India, 1992, The simple clay kulhar, which is made in thousands as an inexpensive container for curd, sweets, tea or water, and after being used only once is thrown away, has the same form as those excavated at the Indus Valley or ...
  16. ^ Nigel B. Hankin (1997). Hanklyn-janklin: a stranger's rumble-tumble guide to some words, customs, and quiddities, Indian and Indo-British. Banyan Books. ISBN 9788186558065. For the fussy, on request, the beverage will usually be served in a hand- less, unglazed, disposable earthenware pot, the kulhar, straight from the kiln ...
  17. ^ "Storm In A Kulhar". Outlook India. August 2, 2004. For those romantic souls who've regretted the loss of that earthy aroma and its replacement by the smell of plastic and detergent, railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav is bringing back the bygone era ... kilns that use not only cowdung but also coal and wood.
  18. ^ "Cakes and Desserts". Bittersweet NYC. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved September 4, 2010. Kulfi (Indian Ice Cream) ... in India is traditionally served in Kulhars, unbaked terracotta ...
  19. ^ Sonu Jain (July 6, 2004), "Why Laloo's kulhad isn't as green as he makes it out to be", Indian Express, Contrary to common perception, the red kulhad takes nearly a decade to return to its natural form ... "The water in the clay disappears and the salts melt into a glassy state and bind together making the clay stronger," said D Chakravorty, ceramic engineer at CGCRI. It takes a while before this salt, exposed to vagaries of nature, decomposes ...
  20. ^ Venkatesh Dutta (September 4, 2010). "कुल्हड़ में चाय और लस्सी नहीं चली लालू की रेल में (Kulhars for tea and lassi are a flop on Laloo's Railway)". Live Hindustan. वेंडरों को यह महंगा सौदा पड़ा, क्योंकि कुल्हड़ पॉलिथीन के कप से महंगा पड़ रहा था। कुल्हड़ का वजन भी ज्यादा होता है। नतीजा यह हुआ कि फिर पॉलिथीन की कप में चाय बिकने लगी (Vendors found this an expensive deal because kulhars are more expensive than plastic cups. Kulhars also weigh more. The result was that tea began selling again in plastic cups.

Further reading

American inventions