From: Leon Kaye, Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate
Published July 2, 2010 08:48 AM

Starbucks Pilot Program Recycles Cups into Napkins

Will Starbucks really increase recycling? I admit I have a slanted approach to this story. I have met too many single mothers and college students who have relied on employment at Starbucks to keep their families on a health insurance plan or to put themselves through school. Now, I know many peers who rely on a clean, quiet Starbucks store to start a new business via their laptops or search for employment, thanks to Starbucks' (now unlimited) WiFi access.


As a road warrior sales executive in a past life, Starbucks provided a safe haven between business appointments, or a place to dry out when caught in the rain. The notion that Starbucks mows over independent stores is nonsense: more coffee stores exist because of the Seattle icon, not despite of it. Plus, in a nation beset by growing health problems and an obesity epidemic, I am pragmatic: I am all for an addiction to caffeine over one to fried foods.

Nevertheless, I still wince when I order a Starbucks coffee, knowing that those cups cannot be recycled. I admit I always stuff the java jacket into my back pocket or into a briefcase to ensure it will be recycled at home, but I know that token effort is not enough. And, even if those cups are made from 5% or 10% or 20% post-consumer content, I know that means the rest of the cup comes from pre-consumer trees. The waste is especially ridiculous when I order an espresso that comes in a cup that can carry 20 shots with room to spare. Finally, the fact that shareholders voted down a recent initiative to step up recycling efforts is more than disappointing—it's irresponsible. But there may be hope that Starbucks will solve its trash problem: its Chicago stores will start recycling used cups.

This fall, stores in the Second City will start sending used cups to a Green Bay, WI, paper mill, where a Georgia Pacific facility will turn them into napkins. The program will start small but is a significant step to address the company’s devouring of 3 billion paper cups and 1 billion plastic cups annually. Starbucks wants recycling at all of its stores by 2015 and the company's leadership is focusing on two approaches: first, recycling bins at all of its stores, and second, finding a market for all those dirty cups that otherwise end up in a landfill.

The issue is not entirely Starbucks' fault: restaurant managers often resist change, partly because the industry endures high labor turnover, which makes rigorous training expensive and time-consuming. The As You Sow Foundation, which led the failed shareholder proposal, is impressed with this latest step, and acknowledges that finding a market for used paper cups while dealing with municipal waste procedures that vary from city to city is a huge challenge.

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