Matt Holden

Since 2009, we have bought 3.5 million KeepCups.
Since 2009, we have bought 3.5 million KeepCups.

When Melbourne's KeepCup announced its six-ounce cup at Milan's Out of the Box in October, the company was immediately hit with requests for a 10-ounce cup too: a similarly "smaller" version of its large 12-ounce cup that would give latte drinkers a stronger "tall" (figure that out).

The company responded on its blog with the plaintive: "We are trying to create fewer cups, not more …"

At 180ml, the 6oz is designed for evolved coffee palates, says KeepCup's founder Abigail Forsythe. Think of it as an artisan coffee cup, for magics, flat whites, long blacks and - gasp - takeaway filter brews.

But does the KeepCup actually work?

Since 2009, we have bought 3.5 million KeepCups, diverting 3.5 billion disposable cups from landfill, says Forsythe. She adds that many fans own as many as eight and quite a bit of KeepCup use is to carry coffee from the home espresso machine to commuter car cup holder.

The disposable cup numbers are still large - 2.7 million a day in Australia, or nearly 1 billion a year, according to one estimate. Like all large numbers, they generate more large numbers: 1 billion a year in Australia is part of 500 billion manufactured world-wide (we punch above our weight there, too).

Whether a paper cup can be recycled depends on the proportion of plastic to paper. Research by one of Planet Ark's associates found only 50 per cent of takeaway cups used in shopping centre cafes were suitable for even low-grade recycling.

There are takeaway cups lined with plant-derived PLA plastic, which is biodegradable, though in landfill its decomposition is measured in decades, not days.

Then there's the flavour effect of drinking through a lid, sippy cup-style: the reduced aroma input to your senses is one reason coffee tastes different in a takeaway.

Also worth considering is the classic energy input analysis from 1994. Martin Hocking of the University of Victoria in Canada calculated a ceramic cup embodied 14 megajoules of energy, compared with 6.3 for reusable plastic, 5.5 for glass, 0.55 for paper and 0.2 for foam. This means a glass takes 15 uses to break even with paper on the energy budget, and a ceramic cup 39, including the dishwasher energy - doable. But a glass has to be used 393 times to break even with a foam cup, and a ceramic cup more than 1000. So the choice is probably about convenience as much as energy use.

Do you think the choice of cup has an impact on the taste of your coffee? And have you made any changes to your coffee choices for environmental or sustainability reasons?

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