Demand Starbucks Make All Cups Recyclable

Target: Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks

Goal: Demand Starbucks keep its word on making all cups reusable, recyclable, or compostable as soon as possible.

Protesters in Seattle recently gathered just a few blocks from the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market to demand recyclable cups. The activists, from Stand, a forest advocacy group, are calling on Starbucks to recommit to its 2008 goals of making 100 percent of cups recyclable and serving 25 percent of its beverages in reusable mugs or tumblers.

The paper used to produce coffee cups must be made waterproof by lining it with some type of wax or plastic (Starbucks uses a thin lining of food-grade polyethylene plastic). It’s this lining that complicates the recycling process. A solution would be to switch to PLA (polylactic acid, a compostable plastic) or some type of heat-resistant wax so that the cups could be safely composted.

Consumer preference presents another problem. Starbucks serves about 4 billion disposable paper cups every year, despite promises and attempts to incentivize reusable containers. Starbucks does provide mugs for in-store coffee drinkers, and also offers a 10-cent discount for customers who opt for a reusable tumbler. However, the single-use coffee cup remains the default.

So, what more can Starbucks do? If the company is truly committed to advancing sustainability, a good step would be re-framing language in stores to catch customers’ attention. For instance, making it a policy to ask customers at the register whether they’ll be needing a to-go cup, instead of simply defaulting to this option. Baristas could also ask if customers would like to purchase a reusable tumbler, and be sure to communicate the benefits of using one at Starbucks. Starbucks can, and should, to more to improve its business model on behalf of the environment. Sign the petition to tell Starbucks CEO to get serious about reducing waste and influencing customer preferences to do the same.


Dear Mr. Schultz,

I am writing to ask Starbucks to recommit to its 2008 goals of making all cups recyclable or compostable, and aiming for 25 percent of beverages to be served in reusable containers. I understand that there are obstacles to these measures, but I believe your company can and should hold itself to a standard of sustainability leadership.

Recyclable and compostable options do exist, and Starbucks should be able to use these. A U.K. inventor has developed a coffee cup, dubbed Green Your Cup, in which the waterproof plastic liner separates cleanly from its paper shell, so that both pieces may be recycled without the need for special technology. Alternatively, in areas where municipal compost is available, using PLA (a compostable plastic) or wax and encouraging consumers to compost the cups could be effective.

With regards to reusable containers, I believe there is more Starbucks could do to influence consumer preference in this area. We have already seen that consumers can be weaned off of plastic shopping bags and water bottles, and to-go cups may be the next step. For customers who are carrying out, instituting a practice of asking how they would like their coffee (have they brought their own tumbler, would they like to purchase a reusable tumbler, or will they be needing a paper cup) could remind customers that they have options. It would also be helpful to remind people that there is a discount incentive for bringing a reusable mug.

Starbucks prides itself on sustainability initiatives, and I hope that this is one where the company can have a reason to be proud. I urge you to transition as soon as possible to 100 percent recyclable or compostable cups, and institute new practices to encourage reusable options.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Ruben Schade

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  1. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    please recycle now

  2. Judith Mitchell says:

    Your non-recyclable cups are the reason I do not buy STARBUCKS products, in-store and at the supermarket. So change your ways and make good on your promise.


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