Bubble tea plastic waste from bad to worse!

Bubble tea is making a come back. So many bubble tea shops popping up even in a sleeping town like Ipoh. I suppose the nation do like milk tea, whether it is the traditional teh tarik or the trendy milk tea with various new ingredients added to it.

But one thing I notice that is getting from bad to worse is the plastic used for bubble tea. I have enquired with a bubble milk tea supplier before about serving the drink in our shop. I wasn’t already very impressed with the use plastic cups, and the sealed plastic lid, for the drink at the time. That was a couple of years ago. The supplier told us that it is actually very energy efficient using this type of plastic cups, which is made of Polypropylene (PP), also known as PP cups. It does not take much oil or hydrocarbon to make one as it is targeted for single use anyway, not for recycling. Energy efficient in the sense that you don’t need to wash, since it is single use, unlike mugs or cups which requires energy from labour workers to wash them after use. These are the cups still being used by bubble tea chains like Chatime and Tealive. The cups are a bit soft or flimsy to hold on to, especially when the cup is full, but not a problem, people have been drinking from this kind of cups with no issue.

PP plastic cup
PP plastic cup with plastic lid and straw.

Here comes the latest trend, bubble tea is becoming more upmarket. So not only that new ingredients are introduced to the drink itself, with thick brown sugar, cheese, and what not. The drink needs to look the part too! People like to take photos of bubble tea they drink and post them on social media! So the drinks are now placed in a firmer, sturdier type of plastic, called PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastic, because people like to seen holding a more elegant cup of drink.

PET plastic cup
PET plastic cup.

People can recycle this kind of plastic cups. But let’s be honest, that’s not what these customers of bubble tea do. They will just chuck the cups away as soon as they finish the drinks. So we have this drive by franchises like McDonald’s and Starbucks, and government initiatives, to discourage and/or to ban use of straws. Then we have this bunch of opportunists driving the latest craze with yet more plastic waste. I am aware that not all such trendy bubble milk tea chain or shops use PET plastic cups. But consumers need to be more aware of this plastic issues. I would suggest them to bring their own cup! For example Starbucks give discount to customers who bring their own mugs. Don’t see why these bubble tea shops can’t offer an equivalent initiative!


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