Paper Cups vs. Plastic Cups

Paper Cups vs. Plastic Cups

Since their introduction in the early years of the past century, disposable cups have become ubiquitous in the twenty-first century and have come a long way. Paper and plastic cups are the two primary materials used, and they come in useful when you need to drink on the move.

However, because both types of cups have advantages and disadvantages, it’s difficult to say which is better for the environment in general. Though both save water by eliminating the need to wash reusable cups, several other aspects of their manufacture can have an environmental impact.

About Disposable Cups

Drinking from shared glasses at public water sources, such as public faucets or water barrels maintained in trains, was a pretty widespread practice at the turn of the twentieth century. As one might assume, public health problems arose due to this type of cup sharing. 

With the emergence of paper and polystyrene cups, both types are now widely used around the world. However, it is debatable which one is best for the environment. Although the research on the subject can be perplexing, we’ll try to comb through it all today to determine whether paper or plastic is healthier for the environment.

Benefits Of Using Disposable Cups

The most prevalent sort of utensil seen at parties, small gatherings, and celebrations is disposable cups. These cups solve the utensil problem that can arise when organizing an event. Disposable cups come in various sizes and shapes, depending on the amount and user.

We all know how important these cups are at our gatherings, but do you know everything there is to know about them? These cups are so commonplace that we hardly acknowledge they exist. So, in this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about these seemingly insignificant details in our daily life.


Often when it comes to equipment and utensils, the most crucial issue is convenience. The fundamental goal of human demands and scientific engineering is to use technologies that enrich the lives of those who use them. Disposable cups have reached such a lofty aim in this regard. Cups are tools that must be maintained, cleaned, and stored appropriately. 

This ensures that the cups may be reused; however, the reusability methods can be a complex process. This is especially obvious for large events such as celebrations and conferences. Cleaning all of the utensils, including the cups, is an effort that would be better spent on something more productive. It’s also crucial to note that dishwashing takes up a lot of time and uses a lot of water.


paper vs plastic cup practicality

Aside from being convenient, disposable cups are also very practical. As previously stated, the modern world is a fast-paced one. To be able to bring a hot beverage anywhere and everywhere may sound like a luxury, but this is the norm for plastic cups, reusable drinking units such as metal canisters, tumblers, and even silicone cups. Still, they are expensive, easily breakable, and can easily be misplaced. On the other hand, disposable cups are inexpensive and readily replaceable non-committal equipment or utensils. In today’s fast-paced environment, this is the ideal drinking tool.

Finally, while disposable cups are more convenient to use than reusable cups, it’s important to keep in mind that disposable cups are safer to use than reusable cups. Reusable cups, such as metal canisters, tumblers, and silicone cups, all need to be cleaned to be reused, but there’s a chance that the cleaning process isn’t perfect and can harbor germs that can make the user sick. It’s also worth remembering that reusable cups are constructed of harsh, easy-to-tear materials that, if consumed, might result in cuts or internal bleeding.


Disposable Cups are available in a variety of styles. Disposable cups’ base materials can be sustainable and easy to recycle, vital for making the world a greener environment while also bringing convenience and flexibility to everyone.


When it comes to cost efficiency, weight is a significant aspect. A heavier item typically costs more due to the additional charges it incurs. A heavy object consumes more gas and necessitates other precautionary measures to ensure it does not break during transit. This is one of the main reasons coffee shops choose to serve disposable cups rather than reusable cups to their clients. It’s also the more cost-effective alternative for people on a tight budget. 

It’s critical to realize that maintaining certain goods necessitates some maintenance, which consumes more resources than disposing of them. Reusable cups necessitate rigorous cleaning and effort to ensure they are clean and safe to use. The water expense plus the time needed might consume resources that may prove more expensive than first assumed.

Plastic Cups

plastic cups

Plastic cups are the de facto aesthetic and standard for disposable cups. They’re light, portable, and simple to get rid of. However, when it comes to plastic cups, one of the essential considerations is that they can be overly light, making them more likely to break or rip. Also, a plastic cup can melt and distort with hot drinks. This is why some scientific research was required to create better and more robust plastic cups.

Versalite Cups

Versatile Cups are plastic cups with a unique twist: they’re constructed of polypropylene, a new type of plastic. Polypropylene is a type of plastic with a high heat limit, which means it does not easily melt or deform. Versatile Cups are also puncture and crack proof, making them ideal for use by children.

Compostable Plastic Cups

Biodegradable Plastic Cups are commonly referred to as “green” plastic cups. It transforms a unique sugar type derived from corn and potato plants into a plastic-like material. This new type of plastic is recognized to be entirely food-safe, freezer-safe, and cost-effective.

Paper Cups

paper cups

When thinking of disposable paper cups, the first thing that springs to mind is hot beverages. Originally, paper cups were disposable cups for hot drinks, but since plastics can now hold hot beverages, they may seem to have lost their attraction. However, just like with plastic cups, new paper cups have been developed to make them even better.

Insulated Paper Cups

The Insulated Paper Cup is a type of paper cup designed to transport hot beverages. The insulated construction ensures that the heat from the drink does not radiate outside of the cup, reducing the risk of the drinker’s hands being burned while holding or carrying the cup.

Recycled Paper Cups

Recycled paper cups take the cake when it comes to being the most cost-effective sort of paper cup. Paper cups made from recycled paper cardboard are known as recycled paper cups. The concept stems from the notion that reusing the same material repeatedly degrades its quality, whereas combining multiple materials can preserve some of that quality while also making it more efficient.

Foam Cups

Foam cups combine the functions of a plastic and a paper cup. They are capable of handling both hot and cold drinks. Foam Cups are made of polystyrene, which is a gas. Although prone to tearing and breaking, they can withstand both hot and cold temperatures.

Paper Cup Environmental Impact

Paper Cup Environmental Impact

Not just in cups but in all things, dramatic advances in the production of paper and plastics have occurred during the previous few decades. According to the EPA, paper production increased by more than 300 percent between 1960 and 2007. According to their figures, plastic manufacture has risen by more than 7,000 percent in the same period.

However, while each of these things needs a significant amount of energy to manufacture, the impact on the environment goes much beyond that. More than 1 million tons of paper were used to make cups and plates in 2007. Most of them were discarded and dumped in landfills. Over 800,000 tons of plastic plates and cups were produced simultaneously, with the majority of them ending up in landfills.


Recycling disposable cups is probably one of the most debatable topics. Plastic cups do not break down as quickly, and because such a large number of cups are produced regularly, their influence on dumps is a big worry.

However, plastic and paper cups can be constructed from recycled materials, which is excellent for the environment. By eliminating the requirement for raw resources, these recycled materials save a significant amount of energy and material.

Disposable cups can be recycled to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills. Programs and centers about recycling disposable cups are available to more than 80% of the population in the United States. However, because it is difficult to find recycling solutions, many people throw away these cups.

The money saved by using paper and plastic cups usually outweighs these environmental concerns for most consumers. In addition to being extremely handy to use, purchasing them in quantity means that each cup costs pennies on the dollar. No one wants to risk damaging their mugs or glasses while on the go, which is why disposable cups have become even more popular.

Lifecycle Assessments

Lifecycle Assessments

Until now, the fundamental distinction between paper and plastic cups has been their biodegradability. However, to determine which choice is the most environmentally friendly, we must look at their “life cycle assessments.” To put it another way, we must consider a wide range of potential ecological consequences, such as carbon footprints, ozone depletion, global warming effects, hazardous chemicals, and resource consumption issues that these cups may cause.

Paper Cups vs. Styrofoam

Styrofoam is also a type of plastic, which is often disregarded in this decades-old dispute. When you look at each life cycle analysis of these cups, you’ll notice that plastic cups aren’t substantially worse for the environment than paper cups. On the other hand, a plastic cup has a lower carbon footprint than a paper cup and uses less energy in the manufacturing process.

We must also consider that, as previously said, Styrofoam cups take a very long time to disintegrate. This underscores how, in the end, our purchase decisions are influenced by what is most essential to each one of us. Even though plastic cups have a lower carbon footprint, it is a good idea to avoid them if you are primarily concerned with waste reduction or pollution.

When it comes to the paper vs. plastic issue, it is stated that while plastic is better for climate change and water health, paper is better for waste management, yet neither is very good for recyclability.

Are Paper Cups Better than Plastic, or Is it a Tie?

A study conducted from the Netherlands shows how similar the environmental impact of paper and plastic cups is when all aspects are considered. The ecological implications of both types of cups were investigated in this study across eleven categories. According to the findings, paper cups were preferable in five of the categories, whereas plastic cups were better in the remaining five categories.

When comparing the energy, water, and petroleum utilized to acquire materials and carry cups, plastic cups used roughly 17% less energy, 42% less water, and 22% less petroleum.

This lifecycle energy study teaches us that there is a choice between non-reusable and reusable cups. In the end, the influence on the environment is significant and imposes the necessity to make the most acceptable decision possible.

Barry Konkin

Barry Konkin is the founder of HotShot Coffee Sleeves. With over 30 years experience in commercial offset printing, Barry utilized his diverse printing background and creativity in developing new coffee sleeve designs that were granted Patents in both the USA and Canada. Barry’s goal is to assist businesses with brand promotion through the use of high quality custom printed cup sleeves. With an understanding of your marketing and operational objectives, Barry can recommend the ideal coffee sleeve solution for you.