Can You Recycle Coffee Cups?

As coffee lovers, we are all trying to do our best when it comes to the environment, but can you recycle coffee cups and their lids? This article will answer that question for you.

Can you recycle coffee cups?
Not all paper cups are recyclable

As coffee lovers, we must do our part to be environmentally responsible. Thankfully, big coffee brands are taking some steps to become eco-friendly.

For instance, Starbucks has shifted towards reusable packaging, while Dunkin’ Donuts has switched from foam cups to double-walled paper cups certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative standard, and their new lids have shifted to recyclable #5 polypropylene.

Of course, more could be done. However, these recent changes represent a shift towards a greener outlook. And as coffee enthusiasts, our behavior and choices have an impact on the decisions that are made.

Believe it or not, that includes the coffee cups we use. If all this seems confusing, then worry not. The answer is that some coffee cups are recyclable, and some are not. The same is true for coffee cup lids, and we should consider this when choosing where we buy our coffee and what we drink that delicious nectar from.

Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out what is recyclable and what is not. There are also a few handy tips to help you reuse those materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill. You might also be wondering, can you recycle coffee makers?

Recycling Takeaway Coffee Cup

Most paper coffee cups that you get in coffee shops are not easy to recyclable. While made from paper, they are coated in plastic or an oil-like substance. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be waterproof, and the coffee would soak through the bottom. 

The plastic coating is necessary for the cup to serve its purpose and hold the hot coffee. But it is impossible to recycle it next to other types of paper and cardboard. In fact, most recycling companies don’t take coffee cups because the vast majority aren’t compostable. Unfortunately, far too many of these coffee cups end up in landfills.

However, in recent years there has been some innovation in this area, with some cause for optimism. There are now some single-use takeaway coffee cups that are completely compostable.

Unfortunately, these cups are used chiefly by independent coffee shops rather than big brands. That is because, with these cups, it can be challenging for coffee brands to use personalized branding. Thus, they would be missing out on what is an effective marketing tactic in exchange for sustainability.

Recycling Takeaway Coffee Cup Lids

Coffee cup lids are usually labeled as made from plastic. However, plastic is a general term that covers different thermoplastic materials and doesn’t give much detail on whether or not these lids can be brought to your local curbside recycling center.

Luckily, there is an answer to figure this one out. You can determine if the lid is recyclable by identifying the resin identification code (RIC) stamped on the lids. Here’s a guide to that type of plastic and others you may find your lid made out of.

Codes 1 And 2 (PET & rPET And HDPE & rHDPE)

Can you recycle coffee cups?
PET 1 codes are recyclable

These plastics are generally used for PET bottles, salad trays, milk bottles and jugs, and cleaning materials like bleach or shampoo. All materials that fall under these codes are recyclable in most municipalities in the USA.

Codes 4 And 5 (LDPE And PP)

Your usual plastic bags used for shopping, garbage bags, plastic straws, and microwaveable meal trays, among others, fall under these codes. Although it’s advisable to reach out to your recycling centers to double-check if they process these, these are recyclable.

Codes 3, 6, And 7 (PVC, PS, And Other)

These are non-recyclable; items such as PVC pipes, car parts, plastic cutleries, and packaging for electronics and toys fall under these codes.

Fortunately, the polypropylene coffee cup lids fall under code 5, so these can be recycled depending on the recycling centers in your area too. That is what the new Dunkin’ Donuts plastic lids are made from. They made this change and several others during a move towards sustainable practices during the pandemic. On another note, polystyrene is under code 6 and must be thrown out in most areas, although some facilities have recently started accepting this.

If using a takeaway cup, you should also do your bit by washing out the cup and lid. Simply rinsing your lids to remove the coffee residues will ensure that it does not contaminate other recyclable materials (especially paper).

If you need to, why not upcycle your coffee cup lids? If you’re a knitter, you can use these to keep your yarn from tangling by cutting the lid in the middle and inserting the yarn there. You can also use it as a DIY sink stopper or a jewelry or sewing materials container.

Reusable Coffee Cups And Recycling

A good option for recycling is ditching the plastic cup and going for reusable disposable coffee cups made from materials such as stainless steel, ceramics, or silicone. They have a longer lifespan and often, their makeup elements can go into the recycling bin when you finish with them. These types of cups are also great for upcycling and, if airtight, can even be used as a place to store your coffee beans. Some independent coffee shops even offer a small discount to customers who use their reusable mugs when ordering a hot cup of coffee.

Recycling Ceramic Coffee Cups

Recycling ceramic coffee cups
Ceramic mugs can be recycled

Ceramics are technically recyclable. They are often used for drainage systems and rock bases for driveways. However, they will weaken other recycled products causing them to be accepted only at certain recycling places. 

If the recycling center takes concrete or brick, they may also have the ability to take ceramics. Often, you’ll need to call and ask. If you can’t find any recycling facility near you that takes coffee mugs, you can often find a new purpose for them. For instance, you can efficiently utilize old coffee mugs as pots for succulents. They can also be used as candles, or you can crush them yourselves and use them as a base in your garden or alongside rocks. This is often their purpose after they are recycled at facilities. 

Old coffee mugs make great paint holders. They can also be used as containers for pencils and pens. Sentimental coffee mugs can have their life elongated in this manner. Thrift stores sometimes take mugs. However, the mugs have to be in pretty good condition for this method to work. If your mugs aren’t broken, this can be a solid option. Learn more in our explainer on why paper cups are not recyclable.


  • Cian Murray

    Cian Murray is an experienced writer and editor, who graduated from Cardiff University’s esteemed School of Journalism, Media and Culture. His work has been featured in both local and national media, and he has also produced content for multinational brands and agencies. Find Cian on