The 3 R’s of BOBA


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-April 30, 2018- Sara Barton

Anytime is a good time for bubble tea, also affectionately known as, boba. It’s delicious whether it’s hot or cold. There’s now, light bulb tea, popping bubbles, boba tea ice cream, and floats(sold by Bar Pa Tea): cheese tea is now sold in Greenwich Village, thanks to Debutea.  As the weather is getting warmer; the refreshing drink paired with tapioca bubbles has become a city staple, especially in hot weather.

Amidst society’s growing eco-consciousness; it’s common to see reusable coffee cups, water bottles, grocery bags, and straws. Recently, I saw boba tea patrons toss their plastic cups in the trash, questions arose. Are boba tea cups recyclable? Can they be reused? Does a reusable boba-tea cup/jar exist?

I’ve divided the answers to these questions into the classic 3 R’s: Recycle, Reuse and Reduce.


Yes, boba-tea cups are recyclable! Disposable plastic cups that are marked with the resin identification codes(RIC) # 1 (PETE/PET-polyethylene terephthalate) and # 5 (PP-polypropylene); mean that they’re both are recyclable.(1) RIC’s are typically located at the bottom of the cup. If the lid is made from a different material, it will have it’s own RIC.


Recycling varies from state to state, so please check for the appropriate bins or drop-off centers. Also, researching your cities, towns or states recycling programs can unveil a great resource. Some cities, do give away free reusable items, such as water-bottles and bags.


If you live in NYC, toss your empty boba-cups/straws into the blue bin, and you’re good to go.


Also, Preserve’s, Gimme 5 Program (nation-wide) accepts #5(PP-polypropylene) plastic. You can either drop it off at a location or send them by mail. Preserve recycles them to make toothbrushes, flatware, cups, bowls, and plates.

When it comes to recycling straws; it’s complicated. They’re made of recyclable plastic, usually #5 (PP-polypropylene). However, it’s difficult to recycle them due to their small size. Very few facilities have the necessary equipment. (2)  Similar to how plastics bags are recyclable, but they’re cumbersome since they clog the machines.


Surprisingly, in a piece by PureWow, apparently, NYC recycles straws.


There are tons and tons of ideas on how to reuse, repurpose or upcycle your boba-cups. If you love crafting or DIY projects; then these cups aren’t trash, they’re art supplies. I repurposed my boba-tea cups into pencils/pen holders. Also, I’ve re-used my boba-straws in my NFL & Fine Arts Project.

Here’s a nifty DIY video with some unique ideas on how to reuse plastic cups.

Unless you’re supercyclers, such as, designers, Liane Rossler and Sarah K who’ve taken it to the next level.


These cups are constructed from reused plastic. It’s all about letting those creative sparks fly. Think of your next cosplay or Halloween costume? Boba cups and straws are excellent materials.

[Please wash and clean plastic cups/straws before reusing.]


While reusable coffee cups are widely available; the boba industry faces a unique set of challenges for its reusable options. You can buy mason jars with straw attachments. However, they’re not big enough for boba straws. The same issue goes for reusable straws. Biodegradable plastic straws aren’t available in boba-size; paper straws quickly become saturated with moisture, and boba-size reusable straws are very expensive.

According to Grub Street, Taiwan, (the birthplace of boba), has set out an aggressive plan to eliminate disposable plastic. In 2019, plastic straws are the 1st on the chopping block. Economically biodegradable alternatives aren’t widely available. How the boba industry will adapt remains to be seen.

Yet, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, Loliware, a U.S.-based start-up that introduced compostable seaweed-based cups in 2015, has launched a successful Indiegogo campaign for “the world’s first edible, hyper compostable straw aimed at replacing plastic straws.” Guess what? They plan on making boba straws and cups.

In the meantime, here are some options:


Boba Guys, located in San Francisco and NYC, sells their version of a reusable boba-mason jar.

Kung Fu Tea sells reusable boba-tea tumblers.

All US Boba chains are unique, Vivi Bubble Tea and YaYa Tea also sell their own reusable cups/tumblers.

Rather DIY a reusable boba-tumbler?

Check out this tutorial from Angel Wong’s Kitchen

Last but not least, Homemade Boba Tea and it’s easy to prepare. It merely requires purchasing tapioca bubbles at your local Asian grocery store or order them online; and a boba recipe. Think of it as a fantastic opportunity to express your mixology skills. Create a boba flavor that’s “off menu” perhaps blueberry lavender, sweet & spicy or if you’re 21, add alcohol.

Plus, it has the added benefits of being healthier. Recent reports summarized by The List stated that certain types of boba tea are equivalent to high-calorie desserts due to their excess sugar and carbs. Homemade, gives you the option of controlling the ingredients, and it’s especially helpful if you have food allergies or dairy issues. While milk tea boba is delicious, not all boba chains have the option of dairy-free, lactose-free or nut-free milk alternatives.

Here’s a recipe from The Omnivore’s Cookbook.

How about this easy recipe from the birthplace of boba, Taichung, Taiwan?

Overwhelmed? Try a Boba Tea Kit. They include both tapioca bubbles and tea leaves/mixes.

uncommon goods boba

Check out this Boba Tea Kit from Uncommon Goods.

Looking for a reusable boba straw?


These plastic/silicone reusable straws are made from Grid Gear and can be purchased on Amazon. (They’re decently priced too).  Etsy has a variety of stainless steel boba straws.  Not ready to purchase a reusable straw? Then a spoon works too or reusing your regular boba straw (plastic straws can be safely reused 1-3 times.(3) As long as you clean them).

What is puzzling is why US boba-chains haven’t gone the route of coffee-chains? Starbucks and Donkin Donuts both sell coffee and beans. Personally, I’d love to see Kung Fu Tea sell loose leaf Oolong tea. It has a rich and bold flavor. So far, I’ve haven’t found a brand on the market that compares.

As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. Boba cups are recyclable; you can reuse them, and you can reduce by either making a reusable cup or homemade boba tea.

Don’t forget: April 30th is National Bubble Tea Day.  Enjoy and Recycle!


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