Are Drink Carriers Compostable?

Fast-food runs add up, and I have accumulated way more cup carriers in no time than I care to admit. While some places have eco-friendly cup carriers, others really do not. With various materials making up cup holders, it’s not surprising to wonder if beverage carriers can be composted. 

Can You Compost Drink Carriers?

Common 4-cup drink carriers made from unbleached plant fiber and renewable resources are compostable. Some durable drink carriers have a plastic lining, and other beverage holders are made entirely of plastic. 

Food trucks and food delivery services can also bring customers takeout drink carriers made of different materials as the demand for drinks increases. Some are flimsy trays for drinks or cardboard drink holders, but juice bars and coffee spots try to only use renewable resources. 

If the product details of the carrier determine that it cannot be composted, check to see if the takeout drink carriers can be recycled. In some eco-friendly cases, a food establishment may have a return policy for disposable drink holders. 

What Are Drink Carriers Made Of? 

Drink carriers can be made of different materials depending on whether it is a hot drink or a cold drink and how many drinks can be held. Common materials are paperboard, cardboard, molded pulp, and plastic carriers. 

Material Compostable Recyclable 
PaperboardYes Yes
Molded PulpYesYes
Plastic NoYes

Paperboard Carrier

This material is collected from biodegradable agricultural and manufacturing waste that is treated and crushed into a durable material. it may or may not have unbleached plant fiber and should be composted like manure. Give paperboard several months to decompose to allow the dissolution of harmful chemicals. 

Cardboard Carrier

Many 2-cupholders are made of simple cardboard. It cannot handle wear and tear as well as carriers with plastic lining, but they serve their purpose short term. They can be thrown in compost or shredded and added directly to plants as mulch. 

Molded Pulp Carrier

Made by recycling old paperboard, paper products, and packaging goods, molded pulp carriers are stronger than cardboard but not as durable as paperboard. These beverage holders can insulate against heat and cold well. Most of the material is unbleached plant fiber. 

Plastic Carrier

These containers are the worst drink holders for the environment. The design is made to be sturdy, but it is single-use, so it may not be the best idea to use plastic for cup holders. While not compostable or biodegradable, most recycling has space for these kinds of plastics and so you should be able to put them in your blue bins. 

How Long Does It Take Drink Carriers to Break Down?

Drink Holder

It can take drink carriers anywhere from one month to a year to break down, depending on various climate and environmental conditions. The drink carrier’s material also impacts how long it takes to break down. 

From faster to slowest, drink holders break down in this order:

1) Cardboard

Drink holders made of cardboard are usually only a single or double layer of the board. Sometimes, corrugated cardboard between the layers may insulate from the heat.

Simply place cardboard cup holders in the compost pile and water them in. It is a great contribution of brown material and will help to balance kitchen scraps. A steady supply of cardboard drink holders could be just what you need to balance your C to N ratio.

Drink holders are not very large, but if you break them up into smaller pieces, they will compost faster. A moist, broken-up drink carrier made entirely out of cardboard should break down in less than a month. If there is not enough moisture or the time of year is cold, it could take a little longer than a month.

2) Molded Pulp

These drink holders are made up of paper and packaging materials. It is compressed and mixed with paperboard to create a strong biodegradable cup holder. It can be composted but will take longer to break down.

The bonds that hold the molder pulp together are strong but will break apart relatively quickly once the composting process has begun. Because of some of the chemicals used to create the bonds, molded pulp is best composted like manure for several months.

These carriers can break down faster if they are torn or cut up before composting. Due to residual chemicals, they shouldn’t be applied directly to edible plants or herbs such as mulch. Before using it on plants, let it break down for a full compost session.

3) Paperboard

This is a tightly interlaced compression of food waste that is pulverized, cleaned, and smashed together. It is stronger than molded pulp since it has been one compressed board all along.

Similarly to molded pulp, the chemicals used to bind the plant products can have residual toxins. Compost these thoroughly. It should only take 2 to 3 months for these to break down. Cutting them into small pieces before composting can speed up the procedure.

4) Plastic

Unfortunately, plastic cup holders can not be composted. It would take them over 100 years to break down and introduce carcinogenic chemicals to the soil. Even mostly plant-based containers that have plastic lining cannot be composted.

Find the type of plastic your drink holders make and see if they are recyclable. If they are, you can place them in your blue recycling bin. If they are not, you can ask the food establishment if they have a return policy.