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An idea to reduce paper wastage: Alternatives for paper cup

SAP is a company that focuses on saving the environment for future generations. It is evident from the number of steps taken by the company, like planting trees, creating software to document Carbon foot prints. It has a software called Environmental-compliance-software. It encourages employees to use cycle for travelling to work. Its Carbon foot prints is very low compared to many companies.

In 2009, we changed from paper cups to porcelein mugs in our pantry, where we have tea.  It has led to a saving of numerous number of trees a year.

Below is a good eco-friendly reason to use Styrofoam cups instead of paper cups. Or better each employee can carry a personal Clay cup.

 Over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion paper cups used by US consumers in 2006. That is every 2461 cups need 1 tree.

SAP has 50000 employees. Considering that each employee uses 2 paper cups a day, SAP uses 1 Lakh paper cups per day. That is 36.5 million cups a year.

Considering 2461 cups per tree, SAP employees has the potential to save approximately 14832 trees a year by using a eco-friendly and cost effective alternative to paper cups.

Very little recycled paper is used to make paper cups because of contamination concerns and regulations. Because most paper cups are coated with plastic/wax, both composting and recycling of paper cups is uncommon.

The paper cup will still be a paper cup 20 years from now in a land fill. It turns out that Styrofoam is an excellent material for recycling.

PE is a petroleum based coating on paper cups that can slow down the process of biodegradation. PLA is a biodegradable bio-plastic coating used on some paper cups. PLA is a renewable resource and makes paper cups more compostable, whereas PE is not renewable and is not compostable.

In 2006, 16 billion paper cups used 4 billion gallons of water and resulted in 253 million pounds of waste. Every tree used for paper cups is also removed from the ecosystem and can no longer absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen or filter groundwater. Trees are used to make the bleached virgin paperboard that is used to make most paper cups.

A study by Canadian scientist Martin Hocking shows that making a paper cup uses as much petroleum or natural gas as a polystyrene cup. Plus, the paper cup uses wood pulp. The Canadian study said, ‘The paper cup consumes 12 times as much steam, 36 times as much electricity, and twice as much cooling water as the plastic cup.’ And because the paper cup uses more raw materials and energy, it also costs 2.5 times more than the plastic cup.

A study of one paper coffee cup with sleeve (16 ounce) shows that the CO2 emissions is about .11 kilograms (.25 pounds) per cup with sleeve – including paper from trees, materials, production and shipping. The loss of natural habitat potential from the paper coffee cup (16 ounce) with a sleeve is estimated to be .09 square meters (.93 square feet).

Thus the best alternative to save15000 trees by SAP employees is to use a personal clay mug  by each employee, the way Dell uses. This could save 1 million dollars a year.  Another alternative is to use Styrofoam which I do not recommend, but it can save some trees for sure.

If this example is taken up by all the companies, imagine what could be the saving in life of trees.

For more information, please read SAP website, Wikipedia. Another source of information is Appropedia.


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  1. Former Member
    By managing the forests and recycling, paper producers are environmentally providing forest growth while producing paper needs in an environmentally friendly way, replanting, recycling and removing trees that are too close to each other.

    Although it is important to utilize methods of reducing paper, recycling and managing the forests are just as important.

  2. Former Member
    My company has paper cups – we do use our own cups as well.   We also have a great recycling initiative.   Everything from our paper cups to our microwave meal containers.

    So what is better?  Using all paper cups or having a great way to recycle?

    Statistics would help a bunch.  I know this is a ranting blog.   Those are a little less statistcally based. 


  3. Laure Cetin
    Interesting calculations. I’m with SAP so I can tell you that not all 50,000 SAP employees use paper cups. In Walldorf and Rot (Germany), the headquarters where over 10,000 people work (I don’t have the latest numbers) people use porcelain cups. But you have to keep in mind that there must be a good infrastructure in place to handle all the collecting and cleaning of cups in these offices.
    Here in Palo Alto, California, we use paper cups and porcelain cups at our desks, as well as plastic cups in the cafeteria that are washed after use.
    I am not a sustainability expert but using natural resources wisely has always been my motto, that’s the way I was brought up. What is better for the environment, the employment rate, and cheaper? Using recycled paper for paper cups and educate people to be reasonable, or using porcelain cups that need to be washed with water, a resource that is scarce in the world but that is wasted in our industrialized countries. I don’t have the answers.
    Nice blog, you got us talking!
  4. Former Member Post author
    Thank Laure,Sampath, Michelle, Augusto for your comments. My idea was to just get a discussion started.


    1. Former Member

      You sure have me thinking.  I’ve started looking at my home use too.  Honestly I had been looking at it before.  But it never hurts to take a second look.

      My 13 year old son is on the “Green Team” for his school.  They are starting to think about this issue early!  That’s a good thing.



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