It is a question that TreeHugger has been looking at for years; Warren previously reported on a Dutch study that demonstrated that I have to drink a lot of coffee out of my ceramic We Are Happy To Serve You cup (full disclosure: it was designed and is sold by Graham Hill) to beat out the paper or polystyrene one. Now a new study from the University of Victoria confirms it.
According to Adharanand Finn in the Guardian, one needs to use the ceramic cup over 1,000 times to outdo the polystyrene cup, and even more compared to paper.
It may not sound very plausible - but on closer inspection the arguments seem to add up. Firstly, ceramic cups use more energy in their production. Second, there is all the hot water and washing-up liquid used when you wash up your mug. Third there's the environmental consequences of distributing ceramic mugs - because they are bigger and heavier than polystyrene cups, which can be tightly stacked, you are looking at more ship and lorry journeys, using more fuel. And, finally, polystyrene cups can be more easily recycled.
Except that polystyrene cups are rarely recycled, they mostly go to landfill, often after being carelessly thrown onto the street. And picking them up and disposing of them is an externality to the company that sold you the coffee, usually paid for by the taxpayer, whereas washing the mug is a producer responsibility. So hang on to your ceramic or stainless steel mug and in three or four years you will have made a difference. ::Guardian