Issues with Paper Cups

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September 13, 2023

Why in news?

Research has shown that a paper cup causes as much damage to nature as a plastic one, as they both contain toxic chemicals.

How are paper cups made?

  • Plastic film coating - As paper is neither fat nor water resistant, the paper cups have a plastic film coating applied to its surface.
  • The plastic film is often made of polylactic acid (PLA), a type of bioplastic commonly produced from corn, cassava or sugarcane. 
  • Advantages - PLA can decompose faster than petroleum-based plastics under the right conditions.
  • It is made from renewable resources rather than fossil fuels, as are 99% of the plastics available on the market.
  • Toxicity - Bioplastics do not break down effectively when they end up in the environment, in water.
  • It remains in nature resulting in microplastics that can be ingested by animals and humans, just as other plastics.

What are the impacts of paper cups?

Impact on Environment

  • Landfill waste- It takes 100 of years to decompose and release harmful greenhouse gases.
  • Plastic pollution- They easily find their way to oceans and rivers, disrupting marine life and ecosystems.
  • Resource depletion- It contributes to the depletion of resources like tree, oil and water usage which can have long term impact on environment and economy.
  • Littering- Improper disposal leads to litter in parks, streets and natural areas.
  • Chemical exposure- The cups are treated with chemicals to make them waterproof or durable which can leach into environment and harm wildlife.
  • Water usage- The manufacturing of paper cups require more water than reusable cups.
  • Economic costs- Cleaning and managing the cups can be costly affecting communities and government.

Impact on Humans

  • Direct Impact- Use of disposable cups may directly influence your physical health due to the plastic chemicals used in their production.
  • Indirect Impact-Pollution from manufacturing will influence global air quality.
  • Bio magnification-Micro plastics can travel up through the food chain
  • Health hazard- Recent IIT study revelead that drinking hot beverages from paper cups poses health risk
    • Reproductive defects
    • Cancer
    • Neurological disorder

What steps were taken to combat plastic pollution?

Efforts at global level

Efforts at national level

  • United Nations- It prepared a zero draft of a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution in Paris 2023, but the target was deferred.
  • SCEPT – Scientists Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty, which contributes scientific evidence to the negotiations. It is under progress by UN.
  • Circular plastic economy- It was created by European Union in 2015. It was launched to strengthen regulations on recycling plastic products and providing more of a science-based approach to legislation.
  • Bangladesh- It became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002.
  • Global treaty on Plastic Pollution- The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is going to start writing a global treaty on plastic pollution.
  • The final resolution will take into account the “full life cycle of plastics” - Production, Design, Recycling and Management of plastic waste.
  • Amended Rules- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 and 2022.
  • Ban- India banned the manufacture, distribution, stocking, sale and use of selected single-use plastic items with effect from July, 2022.
  • Special teams- Control rooms and special enforcement teams were established to check the illegal use of single-use plastics.
  • Grievance redressal- The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has launched a grievance redressal application to help citizens curb the plastic menace.
  • Awareness campaign- The awareness campaign has brought together entrepreneurs, start-ups, industry, Governments, regulatory bodies, experts, citizen organisations, R&D and academic institutions.
  • Extended producer responsibility- It is notified under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle.

Efforts taken at State Level

  • Kerala- Reusables in government offices switch to ink pens and steel cutlery to ensure articles like plastic water bottles, disposable teacups and plastic carry bags are no longer used.
  • Tamilnadu- Meendum Manjappai scheme is the awareness campaign on using yellow cloth bags and discard plastic bags.

What lies ahead?

  • Significant changes are necessary to lessen the ongoing harm to the environment and threat to our health resulting from the plastic pollution crisis.
  • There is a need to address the potential hazards of food packaging.
  • Adhere to the legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution of UN.



  1. Down To Earth- Paper cups bad to the Environment
  2. SciTechDaily- Why paper cups are toxic
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