ReThink Disposable Study Calls BS on “Green, Compostable” Cups

Friday, February 3, 2017

(FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Oakland, California, February 3)—Expensive, so-called environmentally friendly, compostable cups actually produce more greenhouse gases in the landfill than their conventional plastic counterparts and the only way to improve matters is for everyone to start re-using more durable cups for their daily coffee run, according to a new study by ReThink Disposable, the campaign to reduce single-use disposable food packaging waste in America.

Bioplastic cups, primarily those made from plant-based materials, are marketed as green because they are made from plants, rather than petroleum-based chemicals, which, when burned, cause greenhouse gas emissions, and because in theory they are designed to be compostable.

But the vast majority of compostable cups don’t make it to composting operations, and even if they do, they take too long to break down for most commercial composting operations, more than the 60 to 90 days often used for a cycle. So the cups get screened out and wind up in landfill, where they emit more greenhouse gases according to the ReThink Dispoable report, which assimilates global research over the last 20 years.

Studies estimate 500 billion disposable cups are sent to landfill, globally, every year, with the U.S. accounting for 37 per cent of all foodservice disposables globally in 2010.

Starbucks set a goal in 2008 of serving 25 percent of all beverages in personal, reusable tumblers by 2015. By 2011, however, the company served just 1.9 percent of its drinks in personal tumblers. Starbucks lowered the 2015 goal to 5 percent and removed the target date.

ReThink Disposable’s Program Manager Samantha Sommer said: “It’s time to call BS on ‘green, compostable’ cups. Not only do they cost consumers and businesses more upfront, the vast majority are landfilled and have higher life cycle greenhouse gas impacts than conventional plastic disposables. The only solution is for businesses and consumers alike to come together and agree to ‘ReThink’ our attitude towards single-use disposable cups. We all need to bring our own (BYO) reusable cups, and businesses need to advertise and discount the price of our BYO coffees to-go, as a result, to incentivize the behavior change.”


Notes To Editors

The full report, “Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Disposable vs Reusable Foodservice Products” is available at:

About Rethink Disposable—ReThink Disposable, created and implemented by Clean Water Fund (CWF), works in partnership with municipal stormwater and zero waste programs to engage food businesses and institutions (academic and corporate campauses) and consumers to minimized disposable take-out food and beverage packaging at the source to reduce plastics and trash that pollut our waterways and the ocean. This award-winning program takes a pollution prevention approach to the ever-increasing problems of solid waste and marine debris. Based on research CWF conducted with five San Francisco Bay Area local jurisdiction partners in 2011, ReThink Disposable learned that food and beverage packaging is the primary componenet of trash (67%) entering the San Francisco Bay and polluting local creeks. Since 2012, ReThink Disposable has worked with more than 100 food businesses and five corporate and university campuses to reduce over 150,000 pounds of waste and the use of over 15 million disposable packaging items from food service operations, each year. Learn more at

Clean Water Fund is a national 501c(3) research and education organization that has been promoting the public interest since 1974. Clean Water Fund supports protection of natural resources, with an emphasis on water quality and quantity issues. Clean Water Fund’s organizing has empowered citizen leaders, organizations, and coalitions to improve conductions of hundred of communities and to strengthen policies at all levels of government.



Matt Davis