Can you put coffee in solo cups? Do’s & Don’ts

Someone asked me the other day, ‘Can you put coffee in solo cups?’.  It made me wonder how many other people ask the same question and it seems that there are quite a few of you who would like to know if it’s safe to use solo cups for coffee and other hot beverages. 

Can you put coffee in solo cups?

Quite frankly, no.  It is not safe to put hot coffee or any other hot drink into solo cups or any other containers made from plastic. 

That’s the simple answer.  In this article however, I will go in depth answering the question as well as offering some alternatives for you to use for your daily hot coffee and other hot drinks.

Why can’t you put coffee in solo cups?

The simple reason you can’t put coffee in solo cups is due to the materials and manufacturing methods that are used in the production of solo cups.  A study has shown that when plastic gets to a certain temperature, like when hot  liquids such as coffee is added, these plastic cups and containers leach toxins.

The only place the toxins can be leached is into the liquid inside the cup which therefore enters your body when you drink it.  Cool or colder beverages do not reach the temperatures that cause leaching.  This is why, from a health point of view, solo cups are not as bad to use with cold drinks. 

Although #6 does not contain BPA, there are other chemicals used in their manufacture that are not safe and can cause harm to our bodies.  In a report published by the Pediatrics The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report in warning against using not only #6 but also #3 and #7 due to the chemicals released when heated foods and beverages come into contact with them.

Recycling code number 6  

Anything that has recycling code number 6, be it a solo cup, disposable food container or egg carton, is hard to recycle as it made from polystyrene (PS).  It is used because it is cheap and creates lightweight products.   According to New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, polystyrene is difficult to sort and not economically viable.

So if you can’t put coffee in solo cups then what are the alternatives?

can you put coffee in solo cups

Solo coffee cup alternatives

What are the best materials for coffee cups?

So now you know that you shouldn’t be using plastic as a vessel for hot drinks, what should you be using?

  The following materials have been suggested by as suitable alternatives to plastic solo cups.  They are said to be the safest materials to drink hot liquids from as they can withstand high temperatures ie. not induce leaching.  They are manufactured at temperatures that far exceed the temperature of hot water.

  • STAINLESS STEEL – Cups or mugs should be made from 18/8 stainless steel.  This is an extremely durable, food grade metal which is BPA free, PETE free and unlikely to break. Stainless steel is used for hot food and drinks as it is not a conductor of heat.  This means that it will not draw away heat from the contents of the cup which allows drinks to stay hot, or cold, for a long period of time if sealed correctly.  In addition, the ferric alloys which make up stainless steel are resistant to rusting.  And if you want one more reason as to why a stainless steel cup is better than a plastic cup for coffee, it is that stainless steel is easily recyclable and will be collected by the municipality.  A win win situation if you ask me!

    Our choice:  Iron ÕFlask Nomad Tumbler

  • CERAMIC – As they are made from clay, ceramic cups or mugs are fired at such high temperatures that all toxins are burned off.  They do not hold the heat as long as stainless steel mugs however are still a great choice.  Dishwasher and microwave safe, if you’re after something different then this may just be for you.  Or an excellent gift for someone else!

    Our choice:  
    Handmade Ceramic Travel Mug by Nova Ceramics Co
  • GLASS – Glass is BPA free and contains no PETE chemicals however it is more fragile than stainless steel and more care is needed especially if drinking coffee on the go.  Whilst a single walled layer of glass might lose heat more quickly, double walled glass will ensure your drink stays hotter for longer.

    Our choice:  TupKee Borosilicate Double Walled Tumbler 

Can you put coffee in solo cups?

Can you recycle Solo Cups?

Most solo cups are made from number 6 thermoplastic polystyrene, an inexpensive moldable plastic that is unfortunately also extremely slow to biodegrade.  Polystyrene is also highly flammable and gives off carbon dioxide when burned.  

If only Toby Keith was correct in his song ‘Solo Red Cup’ when he said that solo cups break down in 14 years.  The fact of the matter is that it can take up to 450 years to decompose.  The same constituents that bind the cups to make them durable, also slow down the decomposition process which is why it is way more environmentally friendly to use reusable cups or mugs. 

According to Recycle Coach not all municipalities accept solo cups so it is dependent on where you live.  It is not common for them to be collected along with other garbage on the curb which means you have to take them to a recycling centre yourself.  And let’s face it, how many people are actually going to make a special trip to a recycling centre just to recycle their solo cups and other number 6 plastics?

Why can't you put coffee in solo cups?

Are solo coffee cups compostable?

It depends on the solo cup.  If it is the traditional solo cup with the recycling code number 6 underneath, then it is not compostable.  As mentioned above, they are hard to recycle and are not even collected by the majority of curbside collections as they require a dedicated facility capable of recycling this type of plastic.  

However, we have found that there are 100% compostable coffee cups (and lids!) that you can even put in your own garden compost bin.  

Compostable solo cups

My search has led me to find that there are quite a few compostable solo cups on the market today.  Although some claiming to be compostable, still include plastic coatings, which is no good.  Some have lids that are made from plastic so while the cup itself may be compostable, the majority of lids are not. 

Having said that though, we have found one solo coffee cup in particular that appears to fit the bill.  (You can check it out here on Amazon.)  These compostable solo coffee cups are made from bamboo and even the lids are compostable. Unbleached and plastic free, they are much greener and more sustainable than plastic cups and healthier too as there are toxins leached into your coffee.  

On average, they take around 1 – 6 months at municipal composting sites to fully break down.  What a difference compared to plastic solo cups!

Are solo coffee cups compostable?​

In summary

So now you know why you shouldn’t be drinking hot liquids (including coffee!) from a plastic solo cup.  There is no doubt that you physically can put coffee in solo cups however there are many reasons why you shoudn’t.  

Hot liquids placed in solo cups allow toxins to leach into the liquid.  This can potentially cause serious health issues.  So whether you are wanting solo cups for coffee, tea, bubble tea, hot boba tea or hot chocolate, get compostable solo cups or reusable solo or travel cups.  

Solo cups that are made from glass, ceramic are stainless steel are are environmentally friendly, toxin free and set your mind to rest that you are giving mother earth a helping hand.  

Why not try this recipe?

If all this talk of coffee has made you crave some, why not try one of these great recipes next: