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TRASHED:

The Secret of the Starbucks Cup


STARBUCKS is one of the most recognized and admired brands globally. The company’s paper coffee cup, with its iconic green mermaid logo, is how customers experience the Starbucks brand. As Starbucks’ former Director of Environmental Affairs put it, “Cups are our icon, our billboard, part of the ethos of the company.” But, he added, “from our customers' standpoint, the cup is our No. 1 environmental liability.”1 Starbucks serves over 4 billion single-use, throwaway paper cups per year. More than one million trees are cut down every year to manufacture those cups. In 2008, in response to public criticism, Starbucks promised to make a fully recyclable cup by 2015 and provide sufficient incentives to motivate 25% of its customers to bring their own mugs.2 Nine years later, Starbucks has fallen woefully short of these goals. As an industry leader, Starbucks has the responsibility to keep its promise to develop, promote, and encourage more environmentallyconscious practices. That’s why Stand.earth is calling on Starbucks to serve a 100% recyclable cup.

1.6%

98.4%

USE DISPOSABLE CUPS

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ONLY 1.6% OF STARBUCKS’ CUSTOMERS USE REUSABLE MUGS

TRASHED: THE SECRET OF THE STARBUCKS CUP

FROM OUR CUSTOMERS' STANDPOINT, THE CUP IS OUR NO. 1 ENVIRONMENTAL LIABILITY. —   JIM HANNAH, STARBUCKS’ FORMER DIRECTOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS


STARBUCKS CUPS CANNOT BE RECYCLED Most Starbucks customers reasonably believe Starbucks' cups are recyclable, and assume that when they toss it in a recycling bin located in a Starbucks store the cup will get recycled and turned into a new paper product. BUT THIS IS FALSE. Most Starbucks cups cannot be recycled and end up in landfills along with every other unrecyclable piece of garbage.

MOST STARBUCKS CUPS CANNOT BE RECYCLED AND END UP IN LANDFILLS ALONG WITH EVERY OTHER UNRECYCLABLE PIECE OF GARBAGE

WHY AREN’T MOST STARBUCKS CUPS RECYCLED?

What’s in a Starbucks cup? Starbucks cups CAN’T BE RECYCLED in most facilities because the inside plastic lining clogs the equipment

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Starbucks cup sleeves are 100% recyclable

In order to be able to hold liquids safely, Starbucks paper cups are lined with a thin layer of 100% oil-based polyethylene plastic made by companies like Dow and Chevron. This plastic lining makes the cups impossible to recycle because it clogs most recycled paper mills' machinery. For the few communities that accept paper cups for recycling, the cups get blended in with mixed paper and then sold to paper mills in either the U.S. or Asia. But because of the polyethylene plastic coating, much of this material ends up as a byproduct of the paper-making process and is ultimately sent to the landfill anyway. This is particularly wasteful since paper cups are made from very high quality paper and, if recycled, could be reused multiple times.


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CUP TRANSPORTED

PAPER MADE BY MILL

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A CUP’S JOURNEY FROM STORE TO LANDFILL

PAPER COATED WITH PLASTIC

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PAPER FORMED INTO CUP

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CONSUMERS RECYCLE

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TRASHED: THE SECRET OF THE STARBUCKS CUP

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CUPS SORTED

STARBUCKS COFFEE PURCHASED

ACCORDING TO THE CARTON COUNCIL, AN INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION COMMITTED TO INCREASING CARTON RECYCLING IN THE U.S., ONLY THREE PAPER RECYCLING MILLS IN THE U.S.—LESS THAN 1% OF THE OVER 450 PULP AND PAPER MILLS IN THE U.S.—CAN PROCESS PLASTIC-COATED PAPER LIKE CARTONS AND PAPER CUPS.6

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STARBUCKS ORDERS CUP

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This is not just a problem in North America. Europe faces the same issue. For example, there are only two facilities in the United Kingdom able to properly recycle polyethylene-coated cups. In the absence of such facilities, these cups, just like in the United States, are taken to a landfill or incinerated.5

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The fact is that most paper mills cannot effectively process paper cups because the plastic coating is fused with the paper fiber and gums up the machinery.

CUPS SENT DIRECTLY TO LANDFILL

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WE FOUND THAT ONLY 18 OF THE LARGEST 100 U.S. CITIES PROVIDE RESIDENTIAL PICK-UP OF PAPER CUPS FOR RECYCLING.4

MIXED PAPER SOLD TO PAPER MILL

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The Sustainable Packaging Coalition is an industry association dedicated to developing packaging solutions that are less energy and materials intensive. According to the Coalition’s 2016 study, less than 20% of the U.S. population has access to recycling programs that accept paper cups.3 These findings are confirmed by our analysis of Earth 911, the largest directory of recycling information in the United States.

END UNUSABLE RESIDUE SENT TO LANDFILL

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STARBUCKS CUPS: DESTINATION, LANDFILL

START


Starbucks cups are destined for the dump Recycling experts confirm that Starbucks' coffee cups are extremely difficult to recycle, stating in interviews that these facilities send the materials to sorting facilities where the cups are likely diverted to the landfill. So even when people responsibly try to recycle their Starbucks cups, the destination is the same: a dump. Even in Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle, where paper cups are accepted for recycling, Starbucks cups either end up in a landfill in Oregon or are exported to China as “mixed paper” where they end up as “residue” from the recycling process and go into a landfill there. According to the Seattle Times, “even China's state-of-theart mills can take only 20 to 40 percent mixed paper…and Chinese mills do not love coffee cups.”7

THE PLASTIC LINING IN

STARBUCKS’ PAPER CUPS WREAKS HAVOC IN MOST RECYCLED PAPER MILLS. MOST CAN’T ACCEPT

STARBUCKS CUPS BECAUSE SPECIAL EQUIPMENT IS

REQUIRED TO RECYCLE THEM. – SUSAN KINSELLA, CONSERVATREE

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TRASHED: THE SECRET OF THE STARBUCKS CUP

MOST OF STARBUCKS' POLYETHYLENE-COATED PAPER CUPS ARE NOT ACTUALLY BEING RECYCLED. THEY GET TRANSPORTED, SORTED, AND PROCESSED—WHICH ADDS A LOT OF COST—BUT THEY THEN GET SPIT OUT AS RESIDUE. THE FIBER DOESN’T GET USED. PAPER CUPS ARE A NET DRAIN ON RECYCLING SYSTEMS BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT OPTIMIZED FOR RECYCLING. RIGHT NOW IT’S LESS COSTLY TO THROW THESE CUPS IN GARBAGE DUMPS OR EXPORT THEM TO CHINA. THAT’S NOT RECYCLING. —ARTHUR BOONE, TOTAL RECYCLING ASSOCIATES


THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF STARBUCKS CUPS The over 4 billion paper cups Starbucks serves out of its 25,000 stores every year impact our forests and climate, and strain both landfills and recycling facilities. With Starbucks planning to open 12,000 more stores globally by 2021, the number of disposable paper cups they serve is set to skyrocket even further. 8 Unless Starbucks takes swift action, the billions of Starbucks cups sent to the dump every year and the millions of trees that will be cut down to manufacture them will cause even greater environmental harm.

STARBUCKS WILL SERVE OVER 4 BILLION CUPS IN 2017 THAT'S 4.5 TIMES THE WEIGHT OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

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A STARBUCKS CUP’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT FORESTS

Millions of trees are cut down to make Starbucks cups. Every tree removed from the ecosystem for the manufacturing of paper cups can no longer absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, or filter groundwater.

WATER

The manufacturing of paper requires large amounts of water that ultimately becomes contaminated with inorganic chemicals that pollute our waterways.

CO2

Recycling Starbucks’ paper cups instead of cutting down more trees is equivalent to removing approximately 30,000 cars from the road each year.

LANDFILLS & METHANE

Over 4 billion paper Starbucks coffee cups results in over 100 million pounds of waste per year. In landfills, very little oxygen can penetrate piles of garbage, which means that planetwarming methane is emitted from decomposing cups. They affect the environment years beyond its original disposal.


STARBUCKS’ TRACK RECORD In 2008, Starbucks announced ambitious plans to make 100% of their cups reusable or recyclable by 2015. To reach this goal they said they’d collaborate with industry leaders and competitors to “lead the entire industry towards greater access to recycling for cups and other packaging” and “reduce the global impact of food and beverage packaging.” Starbucks engaged experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a solution to cup recycling, leading to three “cup summits” with the goal of crafting comprehensive recycling strategies. But in 2013, after only five years of effort, Starbucks said in its Global Responsibility Report that “a one-size-fits-all approach” would not work, and conceded that it wouldn’t meet its recycling goals in 2015 – if ever. The company then retreated from its commitment to recyclability and reduced its goal for reusable mugs from 25 to 5 percent. Currently, only 1.6% of Starbucks customers use reusable mugs.11

ALL THE RECYCLING JUST GOES STRAIGHT INTO THE TRASH AND INTO OUR LANDFILLS. — CLAIRE STARBUCKS BARISTA

After years of putting its brand front and center on solving the problem of paper cups, Starbucks sought to gain

THE AMOUNT OF NOT JUST PAPER, BUT ALSO PLASTIC CUPS, THAT JUST GET THROWN AWAY ON A DAILY BASIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. — BEN STARBUCKS BARISTA

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anonymity in the pack, citing its participation in an industry association, relinquishing its responsibility, and ignoring its commitments as the promised 2015 deadline came and went.


MOST PEOPLE GET A NEW CUP EVERY DAY. IT ADDS UP QUICK. — LAURA STARBUCKS BARISTA

Starbucks has instead put the blame on the lack of infrastructure for handling the collection, hauling, and processing of its plastic-lined paper cups. Calling for recycling mills to be retrofitted makes no sense as it would cost taxpayers billions if implemented nationwide. A cup redesign would be far easier and far less expensive. Starbucks has disregarded evidence of promising new cup technologies that would make the recycling of cups within the normal paper waste stream easier. Although the company announced in 2016 that they were going to introduce a trial run of recyclable cups in the UK, there is no evidence they tested new cup technology in any store.12 Several promising recyclable cups are currently being tested that don’t require overhauling recycling infrastructure. Because Starbucks serves such an enormous number of cups, when it truly wants a 100% recyclable cup, the paper cup industry will respond and produce one. Starbucks could transform the global cup market.

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TRASHED: THE SECRET OF THE STARBUCKS CUP

Several innovative new cup-lining technologies on the market today make a recyclable cup possible without an overhaul of recycling infrastructure


STARBUCKS: NO MORE BROKEN PROMISEs! In 2008 Starbucks promised to make a recyclable cup and provide better incentives for customers to bring their own mugs. Nine years (and millions of trees) later—we’re still waiting.

We want a #bettercup TO FULFILL THE PROMISES IT MADE BACK IN 2008, STARBUCKS NEEDS TO:

Recommit to make and serve a 100% recyclable cup

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Commit to 25% post-consumer recycled content in their cups

Recommit to 25% reusable cup usage by providing better incentives for customers


LEARN MORE AT:

WWW.BETTERCUP.EARTH

PHOTO: VANESSA TSIMOYIANIS

Written by Jim Ace, Kayla Ferguson & Ross Hammond

NOTES 1. https://www.fastcompany.com/1693703/starbucks-cup-dilemma 2. http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/global-report/environmental-stewardship/cup-recycling 3. http://www.sustainablepackaging.org/content/?type=5&id=centralized-study-on-availability-of-recycling 4. http://earth911.com/ 5. https://www.ecowatch.com/4-billion-starbucks-to-go-cups-thrown-away-each-year-recyclable-cup-1935687814.html 6. “The Value of Grade #52.” Jason Pelz, Vice President of Recycling Projects, Carton Council. http://www.cartonopportunities.org/perspectives/value-grade-52 Mr. Pelz clarified by e-mail that only three of the four mills he referenced actually recycle the fiber. See also: http://www.waste360.com/mag/waste_profiles_garbage_aseptic. 7. http://old.seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2012673308_coffeecups22.html 8. https://news.starbucks.com/news/investor-day-2016-press-release 9. http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/global-report/environmental-stewardship/cup-recycling 10. https://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/environment/cups-and-materials 11. https://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/ee8121c1a6554399b554d126228d52ed.pdf 12. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/21/starbucks-trials-recyclable-cups-in-move-to-tackle-landfill-waste?CMP=share_btn_fb

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TRASHED: THE SECRET OF THE STARBUCKS CUP

Trashed: The Secret of the Starbucks Cup  
Trashed: The Secret of the Starbucks Cup