post consumer vs. compostable paper cups...which is really the best green solution?

I'm getting ready to switch over to either post-consumer or compostable paper cups and it occurred to me that unless I can recapture the compostable cups to restrict them to a dedicated compost bin, then maybe using a cup make from post-consumer paper is the "greener" approach.
My goal is reduced landfill content and reduced virgin paper use.
Any thoughts about which is the best way to go?
(BTW-We are on a college campus where 100% of our drinks are to-go)

Thanks!

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One reason I like the idea of compostable paper cups is because once that cup walks out the door, we don't have control...as you said. Unless the customer actually takes the time to put in a recycling bin themselves, the post-consumer cup will go in to a landfill. Practically negating the fact that it's post-consumer. At least with the compostable cup, you know it will break down a LOT faster than a post-consumer.

Keep in mind post-consumer just means that it's made with a certain percentage of recycled paper (and I've seen some with as low as 20% or 30%). So while you are helping solve the issue keeping the paper out of landfills, the post-consumer cup ending up there anyway kind of negates the purpose. Think of it this way: which degrades faster...a piece of paper or a veggie.

Now...there has been some question as to how well some of these compostable cups react to the heat since heat speeds up the process. I'd say write to a couple manufacturers and ask for samples. Them spending a couple bucks on a cup is a huge benefit for them compared to the money they'd be getting from you.

Check out stalkmarketproducts.com (made in Portland, OR) and I think Dixie cup has a compostable cup.
This is a really good question. This is an issue I've been contemplating a bit myself, with no definitive conclusions reached yet. Here are my overall thoughts anyway.

I think you've hit the nail on the head... in reality, both cups will end up in your local landfill. Once it goes in it doesn't matter how long it takes to break down... its in there. Advantage - neither.

Now, you could put out compost collection cans in your store to get the ones that do linger. Combine that with your coffee grounds and spent pucks to send to your municipal composter (or give to gardening customers). Can't do that with post-consumer. Advantage - compostable

The better question may be which cup better achieves your other goal of minimizing resources used. It looks like both post-consumer and compostable cups use re-claimed material. Perhaps evaluating the manufacturer of each choice would give you an idea of which operation seems more concerned about the impact of their manufacturing operation on the environment? Advantage - compostable?

Another thought is to go with the compostable cup to support the continued growth of that industry? There are many end uses for post-consumer paper and that industry is pretty well established. Advantage - compostable.

Again, my thoughts. Looking forward to reading others' thoughts on this as well.
Both Dave and Brady make good points. I have been contemplating this as well.
From what I understand, the compostable cups (paper or plastic) must be composted in a commercial-type composting facility in order for the optimal compost-environment to exist and trigger the breakdown of the cup. Unfortunately, that means that there is little difference between the compostable cups and the post-consumer cups; if they end up in land-fill rather than a commercial composting facility they have the same post-use environmental impact.

Therefore, by looking at the manufacturing process you will probably get a better understanding of what the impact is of both cup types since, in most cases, the post-use impact of the cups is the same. This applies for both the paper and plastic compostable cups.

But, as sometimes happens with new "green" products, the impact of huge production of the product may actually negate the positive environmental impact. I've not read anything on that yet, but I would be interested in learning more about it if anyone knows.
From what I've read about the compostable cups, you can compost them anywhere. It's just more efficient for a big commercial place to do it because they have more "product" they are able to process and people paid to do all the rotating, mixing, monitoring, etc. But even when placed in a landfill, the compostable cups are supposedly designed to break down faster than normal paper cups (like in a matter of 6-8 weeks vs. up to 6 months for paper cups or 100+ years for a plastic cup). It just comes down to the variables: temp, moisture, etc.

Adrian does bring up a good point in questioning the manufacturing process. I mean is it really a "green" product if the manufacturing process still requires a lot of bad chemicals that end up in a chemical landfill or a lot of shipping? I haven't looked at that aspect yet.

I don't know your experience with composting, but with growing up around my grandparents composting, it can be very difficult thing because it can't get to wet or to dry, or be to cold or hot (compost piles have been known to start on fire). Like many things, there are very fine tolerances to it. I'm just partial to the composting idea because of the potential of it. With recycling, you can only reuse a portion of the cup. It's a better alternative to just throwing things away to rot in a landfill, but I think there is more that we could be doing. Ok...I'm getting off my soapbox now.
Good points.

It occurs to me that if you were really committed to waste reduction, you could tie some incentive to your customer returning their empty compostable cup to your store for disposal. Maybe a variation on the free drink punch card, except they only get a punch for using their own mug or returning their cup for disposal later that morning. You'd have to commit to collecting and delivering the material to your local composter, but you would be able to guarantee that you were having an impact. Not terribly practical, but it might work.
Excellent idea.

Brady said:
Good points.

It occurs to me that if you were really committed to waste reduction, you could tie some incentive to your customer returning their empty compostable cup to your store for disposal. Maybe a variation on the free drink punch card, except they only get a punch for using their own mug or returning their cup for disposal later that morning. You'd have to commit to collecting and delivering the material to your local composter, but you would be able to guarantee that you were having an impact. Not terribly practical, but it might work.
I've been tossing around for some time the idea that Brady had. Additionally, I am going to offer discounts to customers who bring in their own mug. But I'm trying to figure out an efficient way of handling this. I've been to several sushi bars that keep their customers' saki cups above the bar, with the customer's name on it. This way, every time the customer visits, they have their own clean saki cup waiting for them.

This concept works if the customer always has their espresso for-here. But for those customers who take it to-go, they really need to have two cups. One that is in the shop and is clean, and their previous cup... which might be dirty. So, I'm still thinking about this. It might be a cool idea for regulars, if it's feasible and cost effective. For this to work, the customer brings their dirty cup (which we clean for their next visit) and they use their clean cup that we have on our shelf. These would need to be inexpensive reusable travel cups that can be cleaned (in my case) in a commercial dishwasher.

Maybe this is too complex, but it's something I'm tossing around to be more environmentally friendly.


Brady said:
Good points.

It occurs to me that if you were really committed to waste reduction, you could tie some incentive to your customer returning their empty compostable cup to your store for disposal. Maybe a variation on the free drink punch card, except they only get a punch for using their own mug or returning their cup for disposal later that morning. You'd have to commit to collecting and delivering the material to your local composter, but you would be able to guarantee that you were having an impact. Not terribly practical, but it might work.
We have house mugs that are not assigned to a specific customer:
12oz for drip comes with one refill at the price of a 12oz to-go
16oz for latte, chai, mocha, etc, at the price of a medium to-go... no real deal here, but the presentation is so nice that everyone goes "ooohh" when they get it.
of course, a 6oz trad capp and demi's for doubles and maccs.

We will also fill up travel mugs - usually 16oz, for the price of a 12oz.

I do have some that bring their own ceramic mugs too... some even bought them from us. Perhaps you could offer them for sale, all sizes, and give them discounts for bringing them in? Just give it a rinse before and after use for them.

Just some thoughts.
Thanks for all the help with this. I think it will come down to what really uses the least "new" product during manufacturing, since I am more concerned with reducing consumption of new raw materials than with reducing landfill. I only wish it wasn't such an either/or proposition.
As for reuse, we have a stamp for java jackets and after 9th use the 10th cup is free. (the beauty of this is that 10 java jackets cost more than a cup of coffee on my end, so it's a win for the customer and me!)

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