If you order a drink from a fast food restaurant, it will often be served to you in a paper cup.
Paper cups come in a variety of styles and can be printed to have any pattern or design that you like.
Because of their usefulness, flexibility, and low price tag, paper cups have become one of the most popular way to transport drinks in the world.
When you’re shopping for paper cups, consider the drink you will be using them for. Is your beverage hot or cold? Is it heavy, like a smoothie, or light, like iced tea? Keep these questions in mind as you choose the material and style of your cup order, and you’ll be able to find something that works perfectly for your needs.
What Paper Is Your Cup Made Of?
No two sheets of paper are exactly the same, and neither are paper cups. In general, most paper cups on the market are made from two different materials.
Standard Paper Cups
Most paper is actually made out of wood chips. These chips are mushed into a pulp, then pressed into the desired thickness. This pulp can be made with a purely mechanical process, or might be made using a chemical process to get a better texture and color.
The paper used for cups is called “cup board” and can come in any thickness the manufacturer desires.
Because paper can be made from nearly any kind of tree, the papers used for different cups can actually be quite different. These variations show in the texture and color of the cup board used.
Post-Consumer Fiber Cups
“Post-consumer fiber” is another term for recycled paper. Recycled paper cups can be made entirely out of post-consumer materials, or can contain a certain percentage of fresh wood chips. These cups are often considered to be more environmentally friendly, but may also be more expensive to produce.
One of the main concerns of post-consumer fiber is whether it is safe to use for food. Food and beverage containers need to be as sterile as possible. It’s up to individual companies to comply with FDA regulations; most recycled paper cup companies take careful steps to make sure their products are safe to use.
What Coating Does Your Paper Cup Use?
If you poured water on a piece of paper right now, the water would probably soak in and start leaking through. Paper, like cloth or other fibrous materials, is absorbent; it soaks up any liquid it comes into contact with. You might be able to see why this is a problem for paper cups.
The solution to this problem is to coat the paper cup with something. Many different materials have been used over the years, but right now there are three standard coatings on the market.
Many of the standard paper cups used in restaurants are coated in polyethylene, a type of plastic. The polyethylene prevents water from leaking through the paper and adds extra rigidity to keep the cup from collapsing.
One of the main issues with polyethylene cups is that they are difficult to recycle. Plastic and paper are recycled with different methods. Poly-coated cups are paper with a plastic coating, and very few recycling processes are capable of separating the two.
If you don’t want plastic on your cups, another option is to use wax coating. Like polyethylene, wax keeps liquid from touching the paper directly, preventing leaks and providing a little extra insulation. Some of the waxes used are compostable or recyclable, making these cups a more environmentally friendly option.
For restaurant owners, wax cups have one more concern: small amounts of wax can rub off the cups and build up on your cup dispenser. Although this can be combated with regular cleaning, it is one of the main reasons that polyethylene cups see so much popularity.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) Coating
Polylactic Acid is what is known as a bioplastic. PLA is derived from natural sources like corn, sugar, or tapioca. The coating is not quite as durable as plastic, but it is completely compostable. This is great if you are worried about being environmentally friendly.
Interestingly enough, PLA is considered to be biocompatible, which means it is non-toxic and won’t be rejected by the body. Because of this, PLA has seen use in medical implants, sensitive food packaging, and anywhere else that toxicity is a major concern.
What Are the Different Styles of Paper Cup?
Although each paper cup company has their own manufacturing method, there are two designs that you’re likely to see in your local coffee shop.
Standard Cup Design
The “standard” paper cup design is made from a single piece of paper, cut and shaped into a usable cup. The rims of these cups are rolled over; this feature covers the edge of the paper and makes them easier to sip from.
Depending on the cup, there may be coating on just the inside, or on both the inside and the outside.
Air Pocket Insulated Design
Paper conducts heat really well, and paper cups with hot beverages in them can often be too hot to hold. Air pocket insulated cups solve this with a clever double-walled design.
The first layer of an insulated cup is very similar to a standard cup, complete with a waterproof lining. A second layer is then added, and space is left between the two for small air pockets.
These air pockets trap heat inside the cup and keep it away from your fingers, often completely eliminating the need for a coffee sleeve. Air pocket insulated cups typically have ridges, but can be made in a variety of styles.
What Shapes and Sizes Do Paper Cups Come In?
Most paper cups are either intended for cold drinks like soda or hot drinks like coffee. However, paper cups can also be used for soup, ice cream, or any other semi-liquid. Paper cups intended to hold food will be significantly shorter and wider, and may use completely different lids.
When you’re ordering paper cups, there are three dimensions to consider: capacity, height, and diameter. The capacity of your cup determines how many ounces of liquid it can hold.
Most drinking cups share a 90mm top diameter. This is the same size as most cup lids; if all the cups share the same diameter, you don’t have to buy a different pack of lids of each one.
Be careful when ordering 8oz cups, since they come in two varieties: 8ozA and 8ozB. 8ozA cups actually have an 80mm diameter and need a smaller lid. 8ozB cups are a more recent design that use the standard 90mm diameter and are slightly shorter to make up for it.
If you know the capacity of your cup and the diameter, the height is probably set. However, some cups feature tapered designs, and may be a little shorter or taller than other designs with the same capacity.
A standard 16oz cup is 137mm high; if you order a unique design, you should make sure it’s the right height for your cup dispenser.
Paper cups intended to hold food items don’t always come in standardized sizes. Just remember that if two cups share the same capacity, the one with the wider diameter will be shorter than the other one. If two cups share the same diameter, the same lid will fit.
When Was the Paper Cup Invented?
Different styles of paper cup have been in use for centuries. However, the paper cup as we know it was invented in 1907 by Laurence Luellen. Luellen became concerned that shared drinking glasses in restaurants can actually spread germs, so he started thinking of a single-use cup design.
A flu epidemic immediately after World War I made the need for disposable cups even more apparent, and other inventors quickly started trying to come up with a model.
When you think of the amount of disposable dishware that we use in the modern day, it’s hard to realize that food service didn’t always offer this level of protection. I’m certainly glad that paper cups are available; not only are they safe, but they also let me take my drink on the go!
When Was the Paper Cup Released?
Although he invented the cup in 1907, Luellen didn’t patent it until 1912. Originally called the “Health Kup“, his design was finally released in 1918 as the Dixie Cup that we know and love today.
Dixie Cups were widely adopted, and paper cups are now a common way to prevent the spread of food born illness in the drink industry.
How Is a Paper Cup Made?
All paper cups start their life as a tree. Modern paper products come from tree farms, and don’t require deforestation. Once the tree is fully grown, it is cut down and turned into wood chips.
These chips are turned into paper pulp by either a mechanical or chemical process; essentially, the wood is mashed in a vat until it becomes a spreadable liquid. You can also use recycled pulp at this stage of the process.
The next step is to turn this pulp into paper. A paper machine mixes the pulp, then presses it into the desired thickness. By the time the pulp has dried, it’s ready to be turned into a roll of paper or cup board.
The cup board is then cut into appropriate sizes and sent through a printer, which will add your company logo and design.
I once worked in a restaurant that used cheap blue cups; the blue ink frequently rubbed off and stained the tables. If you’re really concerned, go for a simple logo design that doesn’t require a lot of ink.
After the cups are printed, they are fed through a cup-making machine. This machine cuts and curls the cup board into the right shape and seals it together to make a cup. Depending on the cup making company, the waterproof lining may be added during the printing stage, or added as an adhesive later on.
Either way, the result is a finished cup that’s ready to hold something delicious.
How Long Does It Take for a Paper Cup to Decompose?
The speed at which your paper cup decomposes depends on many factors, including the thickness of the paper, the material used to line it, and the place where it’s disposed.
Paper cups can take around 20 years to degrade in a landfill. If they’re tossed in the ocean, the cup will probably fall apart in about 6 weeks. Compostable cups decompose a lot faster than normal cups, just as wax cups will decompose faster than poly coated ones.
If you’re worried about the green impact of your paper cups, look for ones that are recyclable or compostable. The more natural the materials, the faster they will break down after you throw them away.
How Much Does a Paper Cup Weigh?
The weight of a paper cup is determined by the amount of paper used to make it. Different cup sizes have different weights, but average at about 10 to 11 grams. Lids add an additional 3 grams for a grand total of 14 grams of weight.
How Many Ounces Are in a Paper Coffee Cup?
Unless you ordered a special brand, most coffee cups will use a 90mm lid, which means you only have to order one kind of lid even if you stock multiple cup sizes.
What Is the Capacity of a Paper Cup?
Cup capacity is a dimension you can choose when you order the cup; it reflects the volume of liquid that the cup can hold. Common cup capacities include 8 ounces, 12 ounces, and 16 ounces. Since most cups share the same size diameter, a higher capacity usually means a taller cup.
What Is the Price of a Paper Cup Machine?
A paper cup machine would allow you order printed cup board and make your own paper cups. Although it seems like an economical idea, most of these machines start at a minimum of $30,000. That price doesn’t include setup, labor, or even the packing machine to seal the cups in plastic after you’ve made them.
Unless you’re thinking of starting a paper cup factory, you’ll save a lot of upfront costs by ordering from a manufacturer directly.
Why Does a Paper Cup Not Burn with Water in It?
Have you ever heard of this party trick? Take a paper cup, fill it with water, and hold it over an open flame. The water will boil, but the cup will not burn. In this case, the water is acting as a cooling agent through a trick of temperature.
If you boil all of the water the cup might catch flames – but you’ll be holding it over the fire for quite a while.
Which Type of Cup Will Keep a Hot Drink Warm Longer: Paper, Plastic, Styrofoam, or Glass?
Thermal conductivity is a measure of how well something transfers heat. A cup can keep a drink warm when it keeps the heat inside; this means that it needs to have low thermal conductivity to be good at keeping coffee hot. High thermal conductivity means that the heat escapes almost immediately.
Glass cups have the most difficulty keeping a drink warm, with a conductivity of 1.82 British Thermal Units. Plastic cups vary based on the type of material, but are still fairly conductive at 0.35 to 0.69 BTU.
Paper and Styrofoam have an exceptionally close tie at 0.09 and 0.06 BTU respectively, but ultimately foam is technically the least conductive material. The thicker the paper cup is, the lower its conductivity will be.
Who Is the Biggest Paper Cup Consumer in the World?
If a country has any form of to-go food, they’re probably using some form of paper cup. This extremely popular method of holding drinks has been around since the early 1900s and extended across the world. The Asia-Pacific region is credited with using the most paper cups in the world, although North America comes in a close second.
What Happens When You Pour Boiling Water Into a Paper Cup?
The heat may transfer through the paper, so it’s a good idea to use a coffee sleeve or an air-insulated cup if you want to carry something boiling hot.
Some paper cups have wax linings. Wax is not heat resistant, and will melt if the temperature is too high. For this reason, wax-lined paper cups are typically preferred for cold beverages; the ice-cold liquid actually solidifies the wax and makes it less likely to leak.
Paper Soup Cup vs Plastic Soup Cup: Which Is Better?
When you’re deciding between paper and plastic soup cups, you need to determine what your priorities are. Paper is a more environmentally friendly option; it may not be fully recyclable, but it does make use of a renewable resource, and can even be made out of recycled materials.
Plastic cups don’t necessarily hold heat any better than paper. Thin plastic may have a low melting point that isn’t very compatible with soup. Paper soup cups won’t burn until 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly hotter than soup will ever get.
On the other hand, plastic soup cups can get an exceptionally tight seal. After having worked in a restaurant, I greatly prefer paper soup cups, provided they have the right form of lid.
How Much Paper Is in a Paper Cup?
The average paper cup weighs about 10-12 grams, or about the weight of a AAA battery. The coating on the cup accounts for barely any weight, so almost the entire substance of the cup is made out of paper.
Another way to determine the amount of paper in a cup is by calculating the surface area. An 80mm diameter cup that is 137mm high, as many 16oz cups are, would have a surface area of 251 by 137 square millimeters.
Why Can’t Coffee Cup Lids Be Paper?
The design for the coffee lid as we know it was patented in the 1950s by Delbert E. Phinney. The design has gone through countless renditions since then, with innovations made in shape, style, seal quality, and so many other factors.
Ultimately, plastic is used for coffee lids because it does such a good job of preventing spills. It doesn’t break down under water pressure, and can be molded into a smooth shape to drink out of.
It might be possible to conceive of a paper lid, but the challenges involved in actually creating one currently outweigh the economic benefit of doing so. We use plastic coffee lids because they simply just work.