Over the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people carrying reusable coffee cups on a daily basis. Of course, this is a fantastically positive move away from the disposable, throwaway culture encouraged by single-use beverage cups. It is becoming a more widely-known fact that the polypropylene lining on most ‘paper’ cups renders them unrecyclable, so people are happily moving towards reusable alternatives. Coupled with the discounts available in most establishments, it feels like a step-change has occurred.
While researching our product range, of course bamboo cups were firmly in our sights. Bamboo is a great material. It can grow incredibly fast and produces huge amounts of oxygen. Bamboo forests can sequester up to 4 times the amount of CO2 than an equivalent area of trees, and don’t require anywhere near the amount of pesticides and fertiliser as most other crops.
So what’s the problem?
Well, it was only upon visiting a factory (yes, we were that close to making them!) that we realised how they are actually manufactured. 80% is indeed bamboo fibre, which is then mixed with cornstarch. So far so good. Then melamine resin is added, to act as a kind of glue to hold the fibres together, and prevent the liquid soaking into the fibres. Melamine resin (often disguised as simply ‘resin’ in product descriptions) is made from melamine and formaldehyde. What?!
Now, melamine resin is not considered a dangerous substance, as long as it is kept in, and used under, certain conditions. OK, well that’s not so bad, right? Unfortunately, one of those conditions appears to be that it be kept under 70 degrees Celsius…
A recent study by German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest (click here for a translated summary) showed that the risk of chemical migration into hot liquids from these types of cup is extremely high, and that after only 7 fills, 7 of 12 cups tested had leached high levels of melamine and formaldehyde. It went on to criticise many manufacturers of such products for advertising the items as ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ or even ‘recyclable’ when this isn’t the case.
The EU has also discussed this issue in a similar vein, suggesting that many descriptions used by brands ‘do not reflect the true nature of the products’.
So, where did this bombshell leave us? Well, we returned to one of our favourite materials, food grade stainless steel. It’s long lasting, recyclable, doesn’t stain, and most importantly, it’s safe. The added bonus is that stainless steel coffee cups keep your beverage hotter for longer, and the double wall construction means there is no need for an additional sleeve (also known as a zarf, scrabble fans!) as it remains cool to the touch, even when filled with boiling liquid.
It’s important to note at this point that there is no need to throw out your bamboo cutlery, bowls or straws. If they are made from 100% bamboo (which most of the products from reputable brands we’ve seen are) then you’re good to go.