Do you cringe every time you finish a meal at a restaurant and toss a disposable cup into the waste bin? You're not alone. A recent study found that 94 percent of Americans are concerned about how their beverage purchases will affect the environment in the long term, and wish it were easier to recycle those dreaded throwaway cups. The good news is beverage companies are listening. Recyclable cups will be making an appearance in more restaurants around America, thanks in part to new efforts by PepsiCo.

Environmental impact of disposable cups

According to the Clean Air Council, the average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups annually. Styrofoam cups in particular present a troubling problem, with 25 billion ending up in landfills every year, and the material they're made from – polystyrene – does not biodegrade. Polystyrene may keep your beverage insulated, but there are serious environmental concerns about the toxicity of its main component, Styrene, which pollutes the air during manufacturing and can leach out of polystyrene products into the food and beverages they contain.

Even paper cups are a problem, because the plastic resin liner that keeps them from disintegrating when in contact with liquids also renders them un-recyclable at most recycling facilities. Considering that Starbucks alone sells billions of beverages in these cups every year (not to mention the plastic lids and cardboard heat shields), the waste adds up all too quickly.

While efforts to increase awareness about the benefits of reusable cups have helped millions of Americans become more waste-conscious in their beverage drinking habits, there are times when reusable cups aren't convenient or available. That's when recyclable cups would come in handy for people grabbing a fast drink on the go.

PepsiCupRecyclable cups from PepsiCo

PepsiCo has announced that it has begun offering five options of eco-friendly, recyclable and compostable cups including clear plastic cups containing 20 percent post-consumer recycled content, biodegradable paper cups and wax cups made with plant-based materials sourced from sustainably managed forests.

These fountain cups, printed with green imagery and environmental statements like “Wow, Our Cups are Fully Recyclable”, are now available at restaurants, stadiums, theme parks, colleges and universities. The cups are also printed with messages encouraging consumers to visit to learn about how to properly dispose of waste in their own communities.

PepsiCo notes that greener cups are especially in demand among college and university students. Research reveals that 60 percent of Millenials and Gen-Xers would be willing to pay slightly more for environmentally responsible recycled beverage packaging.

Starbucks boosts cup recycling

Starbucks aims to make all of its disposable cups, some three billion of which are disposed of every year, fully recyclable by 2012. The company held a 'Cup Summit' in 2009, discussing ways in which it can improve those statistics, including sorting recyclable cups from waste that can't be recycled and potentially turning the cups into pizza boxes.

In April 2011, Starbucks kicked off a new coffee cup recycling initiative in British Columbia, placing customized multi-receptacle recycling bins at the front of each of its stores. All parts of each cup, including the lid and sleeve, will be recycled.

“Our target is that by 2015 we have recycling available for our customers in all of our stores worldwide where we control waste collection and to serve 25 percent of beverages in reusable cups,” Jim Hanna, Starbucks Director of Environmental Impact, said in a press release. “We also aim towards 100 percent of our cups being recyclable so we are excited to be closer to realizing those goals with this program being implemented across British Columbia.”

Reusable cups, whether provided by the restaurant or carried in by consumers, remain a superior option for preventing waste and reducing demand for forest products, but recyclable cups and easy access to recycling receptacles give consumers a wider variety of environmentally friendly options.

Recyclable cups: Coming to a restaurant near you
Do you cringe every time you finish a meal at a restaurant and toss a disposable cup into the waste bin? You're not alone. A recent study found that 94 percent