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Starbucks Has Venti Recycling Goals

Starbucks recycling bin
Starbucks recycling bin
Starbucks/Kathryn Barnard

If you've ever finished your drink in a Starbucks cafe, then looked around in vain for a recycling bin in which to deposit the empty cup, you're not alone. With fewer than 10% of Starbucks in Los Angeles County equipped with customer recycling bins, a lot of our cups end up in landfills. There are 364 company-owned Starbucks in L.A. County. Of those, 34 have customer recycling bins in the front of the store. In addition, there are 52 stores that have recycling used by employees behind the counter (or in the "back of the house"). While some customers go the extra mile and take the empty cups to their home or other recycling bins, more often, the cups are tossed in the trash.

It's a problem Starbucks is well aware of, and is looking to solve in the coming years, according to its just-released annual global responsibility report. The aim is for all company-owned Starbucks to have 100 percent of cups recyclable or reusable by 2015.

"That's absolutely our goal. ... We do think it's possible," Jim Hanna, Starbucks' director of environmental impact, told L.A. Weekly Friday in a phone interview.

Hanna conceded that the current system in Los Angeles is confusing for customers, with some Starbucks having customer recycling bins and others only trashcans, often depending on how a landlord handles waste collection and recycling.

The new report points out that some communities don't have the infrastructure in place to recycle Starbucks cups: "With more than 17,000 retail locations globally, conditions vary from city to city and from store to store -- making it a challenge for us to efficiently and effectively implement uniform recycling strategies."

While many communities' recycling programs can process the plastic Starbucks cups used for cold drinks, a challenge is what to do with the cups designed to hold hot coffee. The outer layer of these cups is paper, but the inside has a waxy coating to prevent leakage. The perception has been that these cups are not recyclable, but Hanna says the company has been working with paper mills, which have found it is indeed possible to separate the paper from the lining. (Check with your community's recycling program to see if it will accept the cups.)

Customers may not be aware that some Starbucks stores recycle behind the counter, focusing on the "big three" items: plastic milk jugs, cardboard and coffee grounds. (And if you would like used coffee grounds to go, just ask. Most Starbucks stores are happy to hand over grounds for your composting needs.)

One ongoing effort is getting customers to bring in their own cups. Last year, Starbucks served more than 34 million beverages in reusable cups. Sounds like a lot, but this represents less than 2% of all drinks served. Originally, Starbucks had a goal that one quarter of its beverages would eventually be served in reusable cups. But the new report is scaling back that number to "serve 5 percent of beverages made in our stores in personal tumblers by 2015." Evidently, we just don't like bringing in our own cups.

Starbucks is making progress in building greener cafes, with 75% of its new stores now achieving environmentally friendly LEED certification. The company also is working to reduce energy and water consumption by 25% by 2015. And Starbucks strives to ensure that all of its coffee will be ethically sourced by 2015.

Included in the report is a message from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, stating that the company believes "more than ever that Starbucks has a shared responsibility to operate our business in ways that contribute to the economic and environmental well-being of the communities we touch."


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