Easy Sustainability Answers

Are half-and-half cups recyclable?

Adriene Hill Sep 10, 2010

Easy Answer: No.

Noah, from Virgina, wrote in with this question:

I run a small theater in Harrisonburg, VA. Our customers fall on the “greener” side of the spectrum (many of whom listen to NPR, I know). Each time our old store of supplies runs out, I’m in the market to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the health of our patrons while still maintaining the fun of theater attendance. We don’t do enough business to keep pints of half & half on hand, and I’d like to switch to single serves. Any sustainable recommendations? Are those tiny cups recyclable?

I looked into Land O’Lakes Mini-Moos, which seem to be among the most common of the shelf-stable half and half cup products. It turns out those little cups are made from all new plastic; there’s no recycled content in the packaging.

But what sort of plastic is it? Dean Foods, which distributes the cups, tells me they are primarily made of HIPS (high impact polysterene) and EVOH (ethylene vinyl alcohol) and HDPE (high density polyethylene). According to a spokesman: “The containers are multi-layer so they are likely not recyclable at most commercial facilities. The materials themselves are recyclable, but it’s unlikely that most commercial facilities would be able/willing to do the separation that would be needed.” According to this document from the EPA, the containers can be significant contaminants in the recycling stream.

I wondered if dried creamer would be any better. You wouldn’t need individual containers for starters. I grabbed the Coffee-mate from our kitchen to check it out.

The 11 ounce, 150-serving container is labeled as a type 2 plastic. That means it’s HDPE (high density polyethylene) and pretty easy to recycle. According to the Coffee-mate website “there is a significant demand for the recovery for recycling of pigmented HDPE. Thus, there is an opportunity and ability to recycle the Nestle Coffee-Mate powder bottles by a majority of American consumers.”

The problem with dried creamer, for your enviro-minded patrons, will be that it’s got all sorts of hard to pronounce ingredients in it. Wired magazine put together a nice explainer-style list of the ingredients in powdered creamer. Among them: everyone’s favorite food enemy, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

So, what to do?

How about buying pints of half & half for show night and using the rest at home after the show. Or giving the left-overs to a coffee loving patron? That way it won’t go to waste.

Even then, you might run into problems trying to recycle the paper milk carton. Check out a list of places that offer curbside carton recycling here.

If you do decide to go with individual creamer containers–check out this list for some clever-crafty ways to re-use them.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.