Preserving the Environment

Why Those Red Party Cups Are Also Big Red Flags

August 29, 2014
Why Those Red Party Cups Are Also Big Red Flags
The party staple isn't as recyclable as many think. Arvind Grover/Flickr
They take 50 years to decompose at a landfill, but now there's a green alternative to the beloved disposable.

The Red Solo cup is about as American as beer pong and Toby Keith, but there’s a big problem with this party icon.

These beverage holders are made of No. 6 thermoplastic polystyrene, a moldable plastic that’s cheap to produce and found everywhere, from disposable razors to CD cases and even Styrofoam containers.

In theory, this plastic is 100 percent recyclable. But even if someone actually collects the used cups for recycling, most curbside pickups and facilities do not accept this kind of plastic since it’s not easily recyclable.

MORE: Can I Recycle This? 5 Things You Should Always Recycle (and 5 Things You Shouldn’t)

This means, unfortunately, most of these cups get sent to the landfill where they take their sweet time to decompose (No. 6 plastic takes about 50 years to break down).

We’ve already mentioned how plastic is an environmental menace, and that doesn’t even include all of the energy, chemicals and barrels of oil it takes to manufacture a cup that’s probably only going to be used a single time before it’s trashed. (In case you’re wondering how you can recycle them, you can send your used Solo cups to TerraCycle.)

Whether they’re made of plastic, paper or Styrofoam, it’s clear that America has a disposable cup problem. They’re everywhere. You’ll see them ankle-deep at college keggers and all over coffee shops and restaurants. In fact, airline flights in the United States go through a staggering 1 million disposable cups every six hours (!).

So what’s a environmentally conscious beverage-drinker supposed to do?

Well, you can swear off all disposable receptacles forever or just wash and reuse the ones you already have. Alternatively, you can drink from a better cup.

ALSO: This Simple Solution to Reduce Waste Is So Obvious It Should Happen in Every Coffee Shop

Washington-based company MicroGREEN Polymers launched their InCycle Cup a few years ago with hopes of replacing these plastic menaces. What makes these cups different is that they are made from recycled PET bottles, which are exceptionally recyclable.

“The main distinguishing factor is they are cheaper, made from water bottles that already exist so no trees are cut down or chemicals used to create the cups, and InCycle cups can be recycled again and again,” a rep tells NationSwell.

Last year, InCycle saved and repurposed 27 million water bottles from landfills. Not only that, according to a report from Seattle King 5, a single plastic water bottle can make three InCycle Cups.

If you’re worried that these cups are made from the same weak and crinkly material as plastic bottles, thanks to proprietary technology involving billions of micro air bubbles, these American-made cups are light yet extremely durable and can hold hot and cold beverages alike. Check out this neat video of an InCycle Cup that survived without a single crack after being run over by a car.

The eco-friendly cups — which are currently being used on United Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines flights and other companies — can be purchased online.

Turns out plastic can be used the right way. Cheers to that.


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