Disposable cups

Sustainable Coffee: Cups on Campus


Studies show that students drink more than the average recommended amount of caffeine per day. Most often this caffeine comes in the form of coffee and is usually provided in single-use cups. At UCalgary more than 10 different retail food vendors are distributing hot beverages in disposable cups. Researchers at the university have found that most coffee cups are ending up in the landfill despite ongoing efforts to promote recycling programs on campus.

As part of the Campus as a Learning Lab program, a report on sustainable coffee cups on campus was developed to address the question “how recycling programs can be used effectively?” The main focus of the report was to analyze several low-waste cup models for use on campus that could reduce the waste resulting from single-use cups. It also evaluated viable alternatives to traditional coffee cups as a more sustainable method of beverage consumption.


The report highlights the various federal, provincial, municipal and international initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and shift towards a more sustainable future. For example, the government of Canada plans to eliminate single-use plastic over the upcoming several years. Initiatives like these make it crucial for the UCalgary to begin transitioning towards eliminating the use of single-use cups.

Research conducted as part of the report found that improper recycling is the main cause of recyclable items such as coffee cups, ending up in the landfill. A few solution models to this problem, were also presented such as reusable cup exchange, bio-degradable and compostable cups.

Next steps:

After analyzing the various models of coffee cup options, benefits and drawbacks to each model were recorded. Regardless of which option the university chooses to implement, its effectiveness can be determined by educating students and staff on proper recycling habits to reduce human error, which is the leading cause for more waste getting sent to the landfill. A blend of all three models is presented to be the ideal solution for the university, as it would reduce the chances of contamination of waste streams and the number of items going into the wrong bins.

UCalgary has different options it can integrate that will reduce single-use plastic waste on campus and move closer towards its vision of becoming a zero-waste campus. By educating the campus population and encouraging behaviors like rethinking, reusing and reducing, the university can become a leader in zero-waste initiatives.