But first, coffee.
Throughout this October groups of industry leaders have been meeting with members of the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster to discuss the impact of disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles on our world. These meetings were due to take place several months earlier, but the UK election put all such investigations on hold. In the time between the original inquiry being closed at the start of May to its reopening in early September, something like 750 million coffee cups, most with plastic lids, hit our bins.
Although it had existed in some forms for many years, the disposable coffee cup really took off in the 1980s. It was a time, according to architect, NYU professor, and, more unusually, collector of coffee cup lids (amongst other more traditional things), Louise Harpman, "when we, as a culture, decided that it was important, even necessary, to be able to walk, or drive, or commute while drinking hot liquids".
To say it's a trend that's lasted seems something of an understatement. In the UK, we now throw away as many as 2.5 billion coffee cups every year. That's 7 million each day, and 5,000 every minute.
Coffee cups are recyclable, as long as they are put in the right bins and find their way to an appropriate facility. Centres with the capacity to recycle paper coffee cups are limited in the UK, but many clever brains are puzzling out how to make the process easier.
But then there is the lids. Recyclable, but undeniably disposable, one-use plastic. Another example of the seemingly insatiable appetite for plastic in our modern world. Almost every single one of the 7 million coffee cups discarded in the UK each day is accompanied by a plastic lid. It's hardly a surprise that we have produced more plastic in the last ten years as we had in the entire century before it. Some estimate that half of that plastic is used just once.
However, a solution might lie in a material called PLA. PLA, or PolyLactic Acid, is made from plant based materials such as cornstarch, unlike normal plastic which is based on petroleum products. This means it is biodegradable and is leaps ahead in terms of sustainability too. To top it off, the production of PLA uses much less energy than that of traditional plastic.
One of the products which can be easily made from PLA are coffee cup lids. Many small coffee shops and cafes have begun to adopt PLA based lids, as well as other disposables such as cutlery, plates and packaging. We can only hope that the big boys of the coffee world will soon follow suit.
Naturally, we'll be using PLA coffee cup lids in our plastic free Peardrop Pop Up, opening on 20th November 2017.