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We throw away some 2.5 billion paper coffee cups every year in the UK. The plastic coating on the inside makes them difficult to recycle. Although there are specialist facilities which can deal with this, if these cups are found amongst ordinary paper waste the bail will be rejected and sent to landfill.


Paper cups were used in ancient China for tea drinking over 2000 years ago.Their contemporary history starts in 1907 when a Boston lawyer, Laurence Luellen, responded to concern about public health by inventing a water cooler with disposable paper cups. This quickly became a standard item on trains all across America. Today some 2.5 billion paper cups are used by British businesses each year.


The modern paper cup is made from a polythene coated paper which is cut into a curved blank. This is rolled and jointed to make a cone shape and heat sealed onto a circular base. The lip at the top is ‘roll formed’ to give the shape rigidity and provides a thicker surface for drinking. The cup depicted has an outer sleeve of corrugated card, giving grip as well as extra heat insulation. This is made from a curved blank cut from a flat corrugated sheet. The ridges on the front of the cup are upright but angled at the back where the two ends of the sheet are joined.


It is perhaps harder than it looks to capture the varying angles of the corrugations and the way they change in the light. These features alter as the shape curves and tapers, making the cup look solid and round. The cap is vacuum formed from shiny black polystyrene which reflects the light and casts dark shadows to define the features.The severe contrasts of the dark and light areas, with their shiny edges, make the lid interesting to draw. 

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