Disposable cup

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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]

US consumption is some 108 billion cups per year,[6] 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[edit]

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[edit]

The curbside recycling of polypropylene containers has slowly 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.[citation needed]

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.

See also[edit]


  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.

Further reading[edit]

American inventions