Health Hazards of Paper Cups

Not as benign as it looks.
Not as benign as it looks. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Philosopher Ivan Illich said the automobile has increased the general velocity of our lives; and that increased velocity translates into a perpetual state of crisis. In managing that crisis-like state, many people grab hit-and-run coffee on the way to work, or just buy paper cups because they don’t have the time or energy to wash the non-disposable kind, which some people suggest may not be such a great idea.

Wax Buildup

Some people had been afflicted with gastrointestinal distress for a long time, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with them. Doctors also had a hard time identifying the source of the discomfort, until they got a personal history from these patients. Patients were routinely drinking hot drinks like coffee, tea and cocoa from paper cups. The paper cups are impregnated with wax to make them waterproof. The hot liquid melts some of the wax, which is ingested then builds up along the digestive tract.

Carbon Buildup

Even drinking cold drinks in paper cups may affect your health, though not in such a direct way. Paper cups are made using trees as a feedstock. Cutting trees to make paper products lowers net carbon sequestration and oxygen production, and amplifies water pollution, which contributes to poor air and water quality. Moreover; when paper cups are disposed of, they find their way into landfills, where they break down into methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Black Mold

Paper cups stored in dark, humid environments are excellent hosts for Stachybotrys chartarum, or black mold. Black mold articulates a mycotoxin that can cause asthma attacks, memory loss and pulmonary hemorrhage. Black mold on paper cups may not be that easy to see when it first finds a purchase, because the mold attaches to the places where moisture has been wicked into the cellulose, or the seam around the bottom of the inside of the cup.


Bisphenol A is a substance that imitates some human hormones. Because human hormones exist in such a delicate balance in the body, hormone-mimics can disrupt the endocrine system. Thus, bisphenol A (BPA) is called a hormone disruptor. It is commonly found in plastics, and several states are considering bans on the many plastic products that contain BPA. One of those products is paper cups. Not all paper cups are made with plastic impregnated paper, but some are; some cups made out of recycled paper have been found to contain BPA as well.

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