Could NoTree Be the Solution for Single-Use Disposable Coffee Cups?

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By: Theresa Christine

Every year, 58 billion paper cups end up in the landfill. This isn’t because of lazy consumers not knowing which receptacle to throw their cup into, either—it’s due to the polyethylene lining the inside which can take twenty years to decompose.

And while the discussion surrounding single-use disposable coffee cups generally sticks to its ability to be recycled, it’s also important to note the other environmental factors at play. Manufacturing these items requires 32 million trees and 100 billion liters of water each year. Plus, it emits about as many greenhouse gases as 500,000 cars.

So when will we finally have a viable alternative to fuel our need for caffeine?

Well, now we might.

World Centric, a manufacturer of compostable takeaway products, has launched NoTree. These are the first hot cups and bowls for the foodservice industry made from 100% sugarcane bagasse, which is the fiber left after the extraction process of sugarcane.

“We wanted to move away from incumbent materials,” said Mark Marinozzi, Vice President of Marketing for World Centric. “Wood-based materials and petroleum-based materials aren’t ultimately renewable.”

The material is processed in a similar manner to wood fibers, minus the need for molds (and the harvesting of billions of trees, of course). “It basically gets ground up and made into a pulp,” explained Mark. “You add water, and then it becomes a slurry.”

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Instead of pouring it into a bath and molds to create the finished product, NoTree gets dried out and compressed to make a thin yet durable material which is then cut into the needed shape. NoTree takes their efforts even further, ensuring the glue they use to hold the cups together is sturdy and free of phthalates. While the effects of phthalates on the human body aren’t fully known, it can disrupt hormones.

And then, of course, there’s the lining. Ditching the polyethylene, theirs is made from corn and ensures it’s easy to compost at commercial composting facilities. Once there, it takes NoTree anywhere from two to four months to break down.

But therein lies a big question: how easy is it to compost something like this?

“You definitely don’t want to put this in a traditional recycling bin,” advised Mark. “Plant-based materials are just not great in a recycling stream.”

NoTree products must end up in a composting facility, so if you live near one then disposing of the cups (or bowls) is simple. But there are some areas in the United States where finding a facility will prove to be a bit more difficult. For this, Mark recommends a home composting system.

For consumers who want to dispose of the product once they’re done with it, this certainly reduces some of the convenience factors for on-the-go purchases, but plant-based items like NoTree are a big step in the right direction. Consumers today are arguably more concerned about the environment, with one-third preferring sustainable brands. So as we see more and more success stories from big businesses and composting, it’s likely to become a more common practice nationwide.

And yes, we know what you’re wondering: do these actually work? Or will we simply be left with soggy cups and bowls that have been soaked through with liquids after a half hour?

“It works just the same as a cup you would find at Starbucks in terms of performance and durability,” said Mark. So yes, you can enjoy that nice cup of hot coffee and sip on it for a few hours in the morning without any worry—and without any wood fibers, phthalates, or polyethylene.

“We’ve got the sugarcane to work within the tolerance of a traditional cup and bowl,” he added. “We’ve mastered it.”


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Theresa Christine

Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.