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Why Are Paper Cups a Sustainable Choice?

A Sustainability Expert Weighs In

Question: Why are paper cups a sustainable choice?

Answer: What's obvious is that paper cups are convenient, clean and hygienic. What's less obvious to most of us is that paper cups are made from a renewable resource. 30 paper mills in North America recycle used cups.

Paper mills take used paper cups and re-pulp them, turning them into a variety of products. The fiber from recycled cups is used to make:

  • tissue
  • a variety of paper products
  • recycled paperboard

Paper cups are a sustainable choice because they can be recycled.

They are also a sustainable choice because they are made from a renewable resource, whose cultivation benefits the environment. In other words, they are made with wood fiber from sustainably managed forests, which is a 100% renewable resource. 

The market for wood fiber to make products like paper cups has a beneficial environmental impact:

  • More than 1 billion trees are planted in the U.S. each year. And working forests are sustainably managed
  • Working forests capture and store carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Forests and the products made from them store approximately 14% of all annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions each year.
  • Leftovers from manufacturing, such as chips, barks and sticks, are used to generate bioenergy that powers mills.
  • An estimated two-thirds of the power used to make paper cups and other wood and paper products comes from renewable bioenergy and not from fossil fuels.

Paper products are a good sustainable choice -- they keep lands forested, store carbon, are manufactured with renewable bioenergy, and support our recycling system. 

You can enjoy your paper cup beverage guilt-free...just don't forget to recycle it afterward! But always be sure to check your local recycling guidelines.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper