Global Green USA Launches Cup-Recycling Program at Starbucks

Starbucks and Global Green USA working toward a recyclable paper cup

[social_buttons] Do you get your java on the go? If so, what do you do with the paper cup once you’re finished? Throw it in the trash…recycle it…maybe you never gave it much thought. But did you know that 58 billion paper cups are used in the United States every year, and if all these paper cups were recycled, 645,000 tons of waste would be diverted from our landfills? We would be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 million mtCO2e (Metric Tonne Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) similar to removing 450,000 passenger cars from the road. It’s amazing to think that something so simple could have such a big impact. Well, it sounds simple but actually the reality is quite complicated.

Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR) understands the complexity. Their mission is to help businesses increase profits by transforming waste into assets – ultimately, creating a win-win situation for business and the environment. However, CoRR can’t do it alone. It will take all stakeholders in the paper cup supply chain working in collaboration. And it all starts with one white, iconic coffee cup.

CoRR launched a recycling program at seven Starbucks stores in Manhattan. The pilot will test the collection and recycling of coffee cups when combined with old corrugated cardboard (OCC). OCC is the most extensively recycled material in the United States. The objective of the program is to develop a cost effective way to close the loop on paper packaging ultimately reducing greenhouse gases and helping municipalities reach their sold waste goals.

This program will help Starbucks move closer to its environmental goal of developing and launching a recyclable cup by 2012. What many folks don’t realize is that Starbucks paper coffee cups can be recycled or composted in some communities, but most commercial services are not currently able to process the cups.

I was extremely excited to see this pilot come to fruition, because I was fortunate enough to be involved in Starbucks “Cup Summit” earlier this year facilitated by Dr. Peter Senge, author of Learning for Sustainability and The Fifth Discipline.Β  The goal of the Summit was to bring the stakeholders involved in the entire supply chain together to discuss the whole systems approach to designing and recycling a hot paper cup.Β  The pilot program in New York is the next step in this complicated, multi-level process.

So let’s take a look at the different stakeholders and their involvement in the recycling program according to CoRR:

Western Michigan University’s Coating and Recycling Pilot Plants tested a representative sample of the cups used in Starbucks stores and certified them as OCC-E, offering equivalent recyclability and repulpability as old corrugated cardboard using the Fibre Box Association’s Wax Alternative Protocol.

Duro Bag, the largest paper bag manufacturer in the world, is designing a special paper bin liner so cups can be collected and recycled along with the corrugated cardboard. The prototype bag will be tested as part of the trial.

Action Carting, the largest commercial carter in New York City, is collecting the bags along with the corrugated cardboard.

Pratt Industries will recycle a trial run of the bags and their contents, testing them for their recyclability and repulpability compared to existing feedstock at the company’s mill on Staten Island.

Pratt’s Sustainable Design Incubator provided design guidance for the pilot which is being coordinated and monitored by Global Green USA.

This pilot is a great example of an academic, private and public partnership.Β  I look forward to seeing the results which will be available in November.

Photo: MyNameMattersNot on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  1. Amanda D

    Recycling the paper coffee cups is better than not recycling, but the best alternative would be to get a reusable cup. Even if someone only bought coffee every other day from Starbucks, that’s over 180 cups that get disposed of – for only 1 person! The Mug Project is trying to build a community of mug using individuals. Learn more about their cause: http://tiny.cc/WuA17

  2. Cindy Tickle

    @Amanda Thanks for your comment! YES! Bringing in your own mug or tumbler is the best alternative. Many coffee shops will give you a discount if you do so. Starbucks will give you a 10 cent discount. Not much but better than nothing. Love The Mug Project!

  3. Bob Varaleau

    My experience with Starbucks is that the paper cup is used almost exclusively. When you ask for a porcelain cup it usually sends the server digging around for a cup. To get a cup and a real plate for your sticky bun is a real accomplishment.

    I also noticed that the cups being used did not have the Starbucks logo on them. I would take this to mean that Sarbucks does not want there name associated with the waste associated with convenience.

    I am a Canadian and was visiting the US when I became aware of the disposable cup issue at Starbucks. The cup of choice in the US at Starbucks is definitely paper. It is better here in Canada but not by much.

    Don’t get me wrong….. I think the move to more recycling is a good step forward but not as good as washing the dishes and having a good cup of coffee in a porcelain cup.

  4. Eleanor

    I’m really glad to see someone taking a step towards recycling tradtional one-time use cups. Coffee containers and water bottles are a huge part of the problem, as you can easily tell from the pictures in this blog about trash in NYC: http://ow.ly/pYPc

  5. Cindy Tickle

    @Bob Yes, the default at Starbucks is the paper cup, but I can tell you that Starbucks has plans to increase awareness and encourage customers to use “for-here” serve-ware as part of their environmental strategy. I agree that coffee also tastes better in a porcelain cup.

    Also, Starbucks is the first to use post-consumer fiber in its paper cups. Currently, it is only 10% because of FDA approval. But with the amount of paper cups Starbucks uses, the 10% saves thousands of virgin tree fiber a year.

    @Eleanor – yikes! The photos are amazing! Plastic bottles are a HUGE problem. My hope is that we break that consumer behavior and start using reusable, glass water bottles. The water out of the faucet is just as good.

    Thanks all for your thoughtful comments!

  6. Oicned

    I wrote something about the Starbucks coffee cup on my blog yesterday and found your blog today after visiting the NY times website.

    I’ll add your link to your post if you don’t mind as it provides a lot of very useful information.

    Thanks also to Amanda D for the Mug Project link.

  7. Bob Varaleau

    It would be a huge undertaking to make the switch to porcelain. That and convincing their customers to make the switch. I have never been that encouraged when a company says that they are “planning” to implement change. There is a big gap between planning and “doing”. Planning is still good but we need to keep the momentum going.

    If I know I am going to a coffee shop I will take a mug with me.

    My first option in any case is a small independent espresso shop. You will get a porcelain cup there most of the time.

  8. Jad Smith

    Today, 90% of paper pulp is made from wood. Recycling one ton of copier paper saves two tons of wood because during the process of converting wood into paper, lower quality fibers become waste.

  9. Helen Driscoll

    What about bagasse fiber cups? Post harvest waste fibers would be great for food use products. The fibers are long and stronger. Corn stalk paper would be good too.
    I’m nit sure how the wax, milk protein and fats from the coffee will separate from the cellulose fibers in the repulping process. That means that a separate recycling process has to be created for food service papers vs printing papers. Interesting recycling problem.

  10. Perry Peck

    Boom it’s about time, anything we can do to be more green is essential to help save our mother earth. Think about it 58 billion paper cups are used in the United States every year – 58 BILLION. Makes me think of something a old Indian Medicine Woman told me once β€œYou can tell how evolved a society is by how much of their garbage is recycled”.

  11. Event Supplies

    Perhaps we should be looking at including a “tax” on disposable products purchased from coffee chains, a tax that is set aside to pay for the proper sorting and recycling of the cups used? In essence this would mean that customers are paying to recycle their own paper waste, but the cost would be insignificant on a per-customer basis.

    Robert Daniel
    Paper Cups

  12. sudha

    hate to say this..bt i doubt every corporate’s commitment to greening their processes. I was refused to be served in my own cup at a very prominent starbucks outlet…and swore im never going back to that chain again

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