Comparative LCA & Eco-Efficiency Analysis of 4 Types of Drinking Cups

UPDATE: Since this study was completed in February 2006, we at NatureWorks have improved the production process for Ingeo. This results in less greenhouse gases and fossil energy use that is now more closely aligned with the PLA Future scenario reflected in the study below.

In order to outline a well-founded waste management policy for the use of drinking cups at events, OVAM, the Public Waste Agency for the Flemish Region in Belgium, commissioned VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, to study the current environmental impacts and the costs related to existing systems for drinking cups on small-scale indoor and large-scale outdoor events in Flanders, Belgium.

The two-phased study consists of a comparative life cycle analysis (LCA) comparing the environmental impacts of four existing cup systems and an eco-efficiency analysis in which the total life-cycle costs of the different cup systems are inventoried and related to the environmental aspects.

The study compares re-usable polycarbonate (PC) cups with one-way polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE)-coated cardboard, and Ingeo (PLA) cups. The basis for the comparison is defined as the recipients needed for serving 100 liter beer or soft drinks at a small-scale indoor event (2000-5000 visitors) or a large-scale outdoor event (>30,000 visitors).

This definition includes the production of the cups, the consumption phase (at the event) and the processing of the waste. The four cup systems were compared in four basic scenarios, along with a sensitivity analysis to examine the trip rate in the case of reusable PC cups, as well as the PLA Future scenario.

Some Definitions

  • PLA5: Equivalent to the current Ingeo 2005 scenario in our eco-profile.
  • PLA Future: Includes the new process technology reflected in Ingeo 2009 CIT, but also includes a few other assumptions. Please see the full report for more details.
  • Relative Contribution %: Cups with the highest contribution to a particular environmental effect (fossil fuel use, etc) are indicated with a 100% bar. Cups with lower environmental contributions are expressed as a % of the highest contribution value.

Results: Comparing Cup Use at a Large Event

Large Event OVAM Graph
Even without including our new eco-profile improvements, Ingeo has a smaller impact than a traditional plastic cup made in polypropylene at both the large & small events. Once the new profile is incorporated (similar to PLA Future), Ingeo uses less fossil fuels & creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than all the other cup scenarios.

Results: Comparing Cup Use at a Small Event

Small Event OVAM Graph


Selection of LCA settings for the four basic scenarios and the next generation of PLA.

Parameter PC Basic PP Basic PE-coated Cardboard

PLA5 Basic
(Ingeo 2005)

PLA Future
Cup weight (g) 45 5 7.7 6.5 5.5
Pellet Production Data PlasticsEurope PlasticsEurope PlasticsEurope NatureWorks per May 2005 NatureWorks per May 2005
EOL Small Scale 100% incineration 100% incineration 100% incineration

50% incineration
50% composting

50% incineration
50% composting

EOL Large Scale 100% incineration

50% incineration
50% cement kiln

50% incineration
50% cement kiln
50% incineration
50% composting

90% anaerobic
10% incineration

Pellet Production Location Europe Europe Europe USA Europe
Number of Trips
small scale / large scale

  45 / 20


n/a n/a n/a