Microplastics: Get a Mug Instead of Paper Cups

Why you should get the mug at Starbucks instead of the paper cups

Microplastics & the Impact of Using Paper Cups on your Health

Studies show that a paper cup holding a hot liquid on average will leach 25,000 micro-plastic particles in just 15 minutes.
Studies show that a paper cup holding a hot liquid on average will leach 25,000 micro-plastic particles in just 15 minutes.

Most people nowadays are aware of the damaging environmental impact of microplastics and using disposable materials. What one may not be aware of however, is the potential damage to your health, and one of the most common sources of it; paper cups. Recent studies have shown that paper cups- long heralded as the eco-friendly alternative to plastic or polystyrene cups- can still lead to the ingestion of microplastics and other harmful materials. Here is how:

Why Paper Cups are Dangerous: They Aren’t Just Paper

The problem with paper cups is that in effect, they aren’t just paper. As we all know, normal paper becomes wet and loses its structural integrity in contact with water. In order to make paper cups capable of holding liquid, they require a thin coating of plastic, typically polyethylene,  to make them water-resistant. Here-in lies a multitude of problems; virtually all of which lead to negative impacts on your health.

Paper Cups Leak Microplastics AND Other Harmful and Hazardous Materials

Microplastics and other hazardous materials can leach from the pastic lining of paper cups
Microplastics and other hazardous materials such as Bisphenol A and phthalates can leach from the plastic lining of paper cups.

A recent study at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur showed that on average, a 100 ml paper cup holding hot liquids leaked 25,000 micro particles from this plastic lining in just 15 minutes. To make matters worse, their samples also found traces of harmful chemicals and heavy metals as well. Many of these chemicals are also endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormone production, hormone signaling, and are associated with higher risks of certain diseases. For pregnant women it can also become an even bigger issue as they can cause or contribute to developmental and reproductive disorders.

 

How the Microplastics in Paper Cups Can Hurt You… Even if You Don’t Use Them Yourself

The other way that paper cups can harm you is more indirect. As the plastic lining of these cups is not easy (or in some cases even possible) to separate, most paper cups are not recycled. In the UK they found that the ratio was only 4 out of 100. While some coffee shops do have stations to collect and recycle their cups, this would forfeit the original reason for getting them- so that you can take them with you. As such, a lot of them- even when properly disposed of, just ends up as trash that does not get recycled. This means that eventually, the hazardous materials found in the lining of paper cups simply end up leaching into the ground and local water supply instead.

More Research

Scientists as the University of Gothenburg, conducted studies on midge larva, which are commonly used in toxicity testing. They found that those who were exposed to temperate water or sediment where a paper cup had left to leach for several weeks grew less and had hindered development. This problem becomes even more complex due to the fact that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what chemicals are in the lining as unintended chemical reactions can take place in the production process. This phenomenon, known as “mixture toxicity” makes it difficult for scientists to determine exactly which chemicals are causing which health issue, thus making it difficult to set guidelines and limits on how much of each chemical can be used safely. 

What Can You do to Avoid Microplastics in your Drinks?

As scary as this may seem, this does not in any way mean you need to give up your favorite drink at Starbucks or any other local coffee shop. The easiest and simplest way to avoid these issues is to refrain from using disposable paper cups. Particularly for hot drinks. Instead, simply as for your drinks in a glass mug as well. In the case of those who simply need that quick caffeinated boost on the go, you may want to come in with your own tumbler or thermos or in the least, ask for the drink cold instead.

While it may not always be easy to make lifestyle changes for one’s health and the environment, the first step is simply to be aware of the problem. With this awareness comes the ability to take preventative measures in the ways that you see fit, and to find sustainable solutions that can work for you.

References:
https://www.wired.com/story/paper-cups-toxic/#:~:text=A%20recently%20published%20study%20shows,lining%20can%20emit%20toxic%20substances.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389420321087

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36089043/

 

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