Coffee Cups: Disposable Vs Reusable

Okay, times up disposable cups - You've had many chances to get your act together, and you've failed - badly!!

According to ALL RESEARCH (see below) disposable coffee cups:

  • Use more water in production than reusables

  • Emit more carbon emissions in production and continued use than reusables

  • Produce more garbage than reusables

Reusables are the clear winner, just some of the environmental benefits found in research include:

  • Decreased GHG impact per increase number of uses of reusables compared to single-use

  • Less embedded energy after numerous uses

  • Less embedded energy when single-use are incinerated

Meanwhile the benefits of reusables reach far beyond just the environment:

  • Save overhead expenses

  • Generate customer loyalty

  • Connect with customers over shared values

We've included a brief review of 8 different studies that reviewed the lifecycle impact of various types of reusables vs disposables. Click on titles for source.

If you have any other resources to share, please send a message to and we'll update this list.

Analysis of the life cycle of reusable cups and single-use cups

The International Reference Centre for Life Cycle of Products, Services and Systems (CIRAIG), 2014

What the study finds:

It would take between 20 and 100 uses for a reusable cup to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions of a single-use cup. For ecosystem quality indicators, it could take more than 1,000 uses.

Download • 3.69MB

For an english review, see Reusable or Disposable: Which coffee cup has a smaller footprint?

Anthropecene Magazine, 2017.

Cups: Single Use (Disposable) vs. Reusable – An Honest Comparison

December 26, 2019

What the study finds:

Although the impact of the production of single use cups is lower than reusables, the impact of their use and disposal is much higher.

Reusable coffee cups life cycle assessment and benchmark

KeepCup & Edge Environment, July 2018

What the study finds:

The study reviews the ongoing use of three KeepCup models carbon emissions from manufacturing vs that of paper and compostable cups. The models reviewed break-even at 9 uses for compostable and 21-25 uses for paper cups.

KeepCup LCA Report
Download PDF • 3.36MB

LITERATURE REVIEW & INVENTORY Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Disposable vs Reusable Foodservice Products

Clean Water Fund and ReThink Disposable, 2017

What the study finds:

This review finds that numerous studies have found various # of uses before a break-even point between ceramic reusables and Polystyrene Foam or Paper cups. The major differentiation in their calculations was the energy use of washing ceramic cups.

A Qualitative Cradle to Grave Life Cycle Analysis of a BC Disposable-Coffee-Cup's Sustainability

University of British Columbia, April 2012

What the study finds:

Reusables have less embedded energy over time, and that polystyrene cups energy requirements and air emissions are far less than the polyethylene paper cups.

Case Study: Cermaic Cup Vs Paper Cup

GreenDelta, Completed on the Open LCA platform

What this study finds:

When hand-washed, the ceramic cup with lid never reaches a break-even point, whereas without, it requires 89 uses. Based on these outcomes, considering all impact categories, it is then recommended that hot drinks should be consumed in ceramic mugs, provided that these cups are washed with a modern dishwasher and used at least 140 times.

Energy and CO Energy and CO2 analysis of analysis of drinking cups

Northwestern University

What the study finds:

Hand washing dishes requires far less energy than electric dishwashers. Reusables are the long term winners despite washing strategy. Incineration increases the energy requirements from disposable cups significantly.

Scott Cronin - Coffee Cup Comparison
Download PDF • 399KB

Reusable Vs Disposable

Institute For Lifecycle Energy Analysis

University of Victoria, 1994

What the study finds:

The lifetime needed for the energy per use of a reusable cup to become less than for a disposable cup, is called the “break-even point.” In the following table, the break-even matrix shows how many uses are required for each reusable cup to do better than either disposable cup.

Comparative Lifecycle Costs - Reusable V
Download • 45KB

Other resources:



Recent Posts

See All