Cups coated in PLA are better than one coated in PE (Polyethylene). PLA is Polylatic acid and is derived from plants, so both the board and the coating are derived from fully renewable sources. They are treated to hold hot fluids. It is safe because the process used to make this material starts with plant sugars and ends with a non]toxic plastic similar to other materials used to package food. It is FDA approved, and although this application (coating paperboard) is relatively new, this material is used extensively for packaging produce and other food items.
I know this may be a cop out of an answer, but the best coffee cup is a non-disposable one! Ceramic mugs or reusable travel mugs don’t end up in a landfill after one use (hopefully). Sit down to an in-house coffee instead of toting it around with you; most cafés, especially independent ones, will serve you your caffeine in a ceramic mug. Bigger chain “coffeehouses” like Starbucks and Peet’s will pour your to-go drinks into your own mug–and they’ll even give you a discount.
In functionality, a reusable ceramic cup is clearly better because you don’t need to throw it away. But a lot of people don’t really ever consider the other environmental impacts of a ceramic cup: manufacturing and maintaining. The second article explains the “upkeep” of a ceramic cup – most of its environmental impact coming from cleaning it.
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