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Bamboo Boom – Are bamboo cups as environmentally conscious as they seem?

Photo by cottonbro studio for Pexels

“Plastic waste to go, please.” Coffee lovers, especially, are familiar with this situation. After a hectic shopping trip, a quick coffee from a coffee shop, followed by the cup ending up in the trash. An unconscious and consequential mistake.

Photo by Jas Min for Unsplash

Many people are aware that plastic cups have a particularly poor eco-balance, yet they still don’t opt for alternatives. According to Statista, approximately 2.8 billion disposable cups are used annually. That’s an average of 34 per capita, equivalent to 40,000 tons of waste, often left lying around in parks or on the side of the road. Clearly, this is too much to avoid a littered environment in the future, as these cups are challenging to recycle. Incinerating disposable cups consumes valuable resources and energy. But how can we contribute more consciously to environmental protection?

That’s why many companies have decided to switch to bamboo cups, as they seem better than paper ones. But is it really as good as everyone claims?

In recent years, the reusable bamboo coffee cup has become increasingly popular. The trend is now widespread. However, behind the increasingly popular and naturally sounding bamboo cups is more than meets the eye. Those who drink from reusable bamboo cups are not only unknowingly harming the environment but also themselves. Unlike the labeling of many products, these cups are neither recyclable nor biodegradable. According to the manufacturer, they do contain ground bamboo fiber, but also the plastic melamine resin, composed of formaldehyde and melamine. This is supposed to make the cups hard and unbreakable but is harmful to health. The problem is that more than half of the cups release excessive amounts of harmful substances into the drink after prolonged use. In principle, however, melamine resin is not a hazardous substance. Especially children’s tableware often consists of it and is usually safe, as long as the plastic is properly processed and certain conditions are observed during use.

However, whether the substances get into the drink depends on the temperature. Drinking coffee or tea could become a problem, as there is a risk above 70 degrees Celsius. Melamine causes illnesses in the bladder and kidney system when consuming hot drinks from bamboo cups. In contrast, formaldehyde irritates the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract and can cause cancer of the nasopharynx if inhaled.

So: Bamboo cups cannot be warmed in the microwave! When heated to high temperatures, the cup material decomposes, and the surface is destroyed. Accordingly, more melamine and formaldehyde end up in the drink. The German test “Stiftung Warentest” always tests products on the market and advises against using bamboo cups for hot drinks. A more environmentally friendly alternative is a disposable coffee-to-go cup made from bagasse. This is made from sugar cane fibers, obtained during the production of sugar from sugar cane. It is 100% biodegradable, compostable, and free from chemical additives such as plastic. In the video linked below, you’ll find one of the only ‘environmentally friendly’ ways to make bamboo cups.

However, if you want to be mindful of your ecological footprint, you should avoid disposable products and opt for reusable ones. Because only sustainable action can counteract problems such as excessive resource consumption and waste production. If you opt for the good old ceramic cup, you can be sure that no harmful chemicals get into your hot drink and that the material does not affect the taste.

If you prioritise stability and insulation, the reusable stainless steel cup wins the race, as it not only looks super stylish but also contributes to a better environment. Thanks to the numerous alternatives to disposable cups, it should no longer be a problem in the future to do without disposable plastic altogether. So you should think twice about waiting until you get home and enjoying a coffee at home on the couch instead of resorting to disposable cups again.

Or even better: always have a reusable cup in your handbag or car, just in case.

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