According to various resources online, hot beverages in plastic cups are generally considered a big no-no. Cosmic Cup Coffee writes, “As a general rule, it is not recommended to drink coffee or other hot liquids from plastic cups. When plastic reaches higher temperatures and begins to melt, it begins to leach toxic chemicals into the food or drink it contains. Glass and stainless steel make excellent alternatives.”
The most popular coffee chain in the world, Starbucks, will often mix customers’ drinks in plastic cups— a barista for the company, TikToker Maddie Milton (@maddiemilton), responded to a user who referenced the potential dangers of this practice.
In a trending clip that’s garnered over 16,000 views as of Friday, Milton addresses these concerns. She demonstrates how for some beverages, she’s found ways to ensure that hot espresso doesn’t go into a plastic cup first but says that for particular drinks it isn’t possible as she must follow Starbucks’ drink-making protocols.
@maddiemilton Replying to @Helena addressing hot liquid + plastic #healthystarbucks #healthandwellness #toxins ♬ Warm Nights – LAKEY INSPIRED
“I’ve been getting a lot of comments like this one, talking about putting hot liquid in plastic. I honestly hadn’t even thought about it,” she says in the clip. “I’ve decided to do my own research and I am now trying my best to start making coffees like this.”
The clip then transitions to showing her adding a base of cold milk to the plastic cup first before immediately dumping the hot espresso straight in.
She continues, “It’s hard working for a company. There’s already certain standards and procedures. Example, for this drink, I have to do it like this.”
Again, the TikToker shows her pouring the hot espresso into a plastic measuring cup as the first step of making the beverage and explains why she must follow protocol.
“Otherwise, we get in trouble for not melting the syrup in,” she explains. “And, if you’re drinking a hot coffee, then the lid has plastic in it as well. I’ve been learning that the little triangle right there tells you what kind of plastic it is. Meaning you can look up what it does to you.”
Maddie shows the symbol on the lid before the video transitions to the type of plastic found in the chains’ lids—5PP, which is the symbol for Polypropylene. She shares a screenshot of an explainer of the plastic, which is described as, “durable and versatile. [PP] is usually found in medical bottles, yogurt tubs, cereal box liners…” and the next screenshot in the video highlights an article discussing “the toxicity of polypropylene microplastics in human-derived cells.”
“You can try asking for a drink to be made ‘upside down,’ meaning we’ll put the milk in before the espresso,” the TikToker suggests. “Realistically, I think you just need to bring your own cup. Realizing that as a consumer you need to be more mindful of what you’re consuming. But I still think it’s important not to stress yourself out and focus on what you can control.”
While Starbucks did ultimately toss its plastic straws away in 2020, transitioning primarily over to “sippy” lids instead, the brand has still been called out for its usage of plastic cups. According to Greenpeace, the franchise “distributes about 6 billion disposable cups and mugs worldwide each year, most of which end up in landfills or in the environment.”
According to Palmetto Industries, polypropylene is generally considered “safe” to drink from, as per the FDA’s findings, and the “leaching” that occurs with some plastics isn’t as much of an issue for the types of cups Starbucks mixes its drinks in.
“Polypropylene is FDA-approved for food contact and also has a high heat tolerance. It is known to be a safer alternative to most other plastics. It can be used to heat beverages or foods without leaching,” the site states.
One commenter who saw Milton’s post agreed that more consumers should bring in their own cups when purchasing beverages from Starbucks.
“I agree about the personal cups!” they wrote. “I feel like Starbucks should just move to personal cups only. god knows we all have way too many cups at home anyway.”
Someone else said that syrups can be effectively mixed into colder liquids, like milk, with a bit of extra stirring, in case Milton was worried about not making certain beverages to the store’s specifications.
“You can mix white mocha with cold milk,” they suggested. “I do it all the time – it only takes a few good swirls to get it to mix.”
Another just seemed happy that Milton cared enough to look into the issue and post about it for others.
“I’m so glad you looked into it!!!!” the user said. “Genuinely. Also I totally get that, you need to follow certain protocols.”
The Daily Dot has reached out to Starbucks and Milton via email.