Starbucks coffee cups. They are everywhere. I’ve seen many people throw them away. I’ve seen some eco-experts put them in composting bins. And personally I have even tried to wash them and recycle them. Don’t try that at home.
So which is it? The
final Jeopardy question is: what is the
best thing to do with a Starbucks cup when the last drop of coffee
A) Compost it
B) Recycle it
C) Throw it away
D) None of the above – bring your own cup (BYOC)
D is of course the ultimate green answer! but this still leaves our conundrum.
My curiosity grew when I visited Tully’s Coffee recently and was hit over the head with their new 100% Compostable Green Cup. Ah ha. This was a clue. Why is Tully’s making such a big deal about this? It is fabulous of course, but it also insinuated that competing cups might be paper in non-green clothes.
When I was randomly selected for a Starbucks survey, I decided it had to be fate. I would go to the source and ask the burning question. Are Starbucks paper cups recyclable or compostable?
Here is the answer, verbatim from Starbucks:
"Starbucks white paper cups, used for hot beverages, are made of paper fiber and the industry standard liner (low-density polyethylene plastic). The paper provides the rigidity for the cup, while the plastic layer keeps the paper layer intact by protecting it from the hot beverage. This plastic layer also makes the hot beverage cups unrecyclable in most paper recycling systems. We are continually evaluating alternatives to the current plastic coating, and are currently conducting life cycle assessments for bio-based plastics."
Wow, there you have it folks. It is the plastic cup liner that is the culprit and makes the current Starbucks paper cup neither compostable nor recyclable.
So the Answer to the question is C. Starbucks cups are not recyclable. You have to trash the Starbucks cup - throw it away - because it contains paper and plastic.
Starbucks cups contain 10% recycled paper which is an excellent start, but they are not recyclable or compostable because of the plastic liner. To use Bill McDonough's term, Starbucks hot cups are a monstrous hybrid of a biological item (paper) and a technical item (plastic).
Let’s hope that Starbucks will consider switching to a cup with a bio-liner like the new ecotainer hot cup. Starbucks goes through over 2.3 billion paper cups a year. Imagine the green bounty if all of that trash could be diverted and reused.
We can fight back via BYOC - bring your own cup, mug or tumbler to Starbacks. Care not cups. Climate not cups.
In the meantime, I still love a good Starbucks Chai Latte, and I'm trying hard to bring my own mug every time. Plus the 10 cents cup credit is almost as sweet as the vanilla syrup.
For more, please see Bring Your Own Cup.
Update May 2009: Thanks to comments and questions from you the community, Starbucks has finally decided to try to tackle its cup issue. We applaud Starbucks for convening a Cup Summit this month. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has pledged that all of its iconic Starbucks paper cups will be recyclable by the year 2012. That is 3 and a half years away. Given that Starbucks is going through 3 billion cups now per year, that is over 10 billion more paper cups that will be thrown away.
In the meantime, Starbucks please implement some solutions that patrons can use right away. First, in regions where composting is feasible, switch some cafes to ecotainer 100% compostable cups and put green bins in those stores. This solution is available now. Second, offer more for-here ceramic mugs in the cafes. Some Starbucks have them now, but they are often hidden behind the counter. May I have that in a ceramic mug please? Third, start a national irresistable Bring Your Own Cup promotion and reward each patron 15 cents. It will be popular! Let us have our coffee - or chai tea - and our planet too. Let's continue to let Starbucks know how we feel via their Facebook page and their Starbucks customer service site. Thank you for caring about this issue. You are making a difference. Onwards to a caffeine-fueled victory!