3 is the magic number.


Starbucks has a lofty goal: to have 100% of Starbucks cups be reusable or recyclable by 2015.  This is going to take three groups working together.

Group One: Starbucks.  Why are their cups not being recycled?  Because most of this country's recycling centers cannot recycle paper cups with a polyethylene lining (petroleum based, not renewable, and makes recycling difficult).  Starbucks needs to look at the latest research on Polylactic Acid (PLA).  PLA is corn and sugar based, and naturally biodegradable.  This product is currently expensive, but research is being done to make PLA more cheaply - significantly reducing the cost to the companies who want to use it in food and beverage packaging.  Why not consider other options for the paper cups Starbucks uses?  Realistically, we will never be 100% paper cup free, but if the paper cups are 100% recyclable and compostable this won't be an issue. 

Group Two: City governments and their recycling infrastructure.  Whether or not Starbucks changes the materials for their cups, there must be recycling centers available in every neighborhood that accept these cups and will have the capabilities necessary to recycle them.  Jim Hanna, the Director of Environmental Impact for Starbucks, said, "Starbucks cups will only be called "recyclable" when 75% of customers have access to recycling services." (http://starbucks.tekgroup.com/articledisplay.cfm?articleid=379) .  According to Starbucks, "Recycling is dependent on the availability of commercial recycling services where our stores are located." These governments may need a little "push" to get this rolling. If there isn't commercial recycling in your city, SPEAK UP! That is where Group Three comes in:

Group Three: The Consumer.  You.  Me.  The Starbucks patrons around the country.  We must call or visit our local recycling centers and ask  what their current capabilities are.  If they cannot handle paper cup recycling, we go higher - here in Georgia we have the Georgia Recycling Coalition.  Each state should have a similar organization.  I have asked two Starbucks store managers where I can go to recycle my coffee cup.  They had no idea.  In fact, several of my friends just "assumed" their cups were recyclable already!

Unfortunately, even with the invention of the perfect recyclable paper cup and the readily available resources to recycle it, the problem for the environment isn't quite solved. Nicko Fusso writes in the article, The Paper Coffee Cup: Recycle-ready, or destined for garbage?  "Because of the extra resources consumed in the pick-up and recycling process, disposable coffee cups being recycled can claim even more energy than before!  Unless new recycling trucks and sorting centers run on alternative energy, ecoists miss a flawless victory. This solution also neglects to conserve one important resource in particular � money.  Recycling, although eco-friendly and popular, does come with a cost.  The city has to pay for the state-of-the-art recycling center, businesses must pay for recycling services, and coffee houses still have to pay for their disposable cups."

So, what can the consumer do that will have an immediate and cost-efficient impact on this problem?  Use a reusable mug, tumbler, to-go cup, etc.   Don't go out and buy a new container if you already have one.  Use what you have - this is another way of avoiding waste.   Starbucks currently gives you $.10 off (a bit stingy) if you bring in your own mug.  Also, getting a Starbucks Card is free, and every time you use it, you get stars that add up to free drinks, coffee, syrups, etc.  Using a reusable container for your daily coffee really adds up for the environment.  According to an article from Earth911, "Starbucks served about 26 million drinks in reusable cups and mugs in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in 2009, keeping nearly 1.2 million pounds of paper from ending up in landfills." This is encouraging and should help people to make the change from paper cups to reusable containers. 

Some of us see this as a burden.  After all, this will involve a behavioral change - a change in habit.  Experts say that it takes an average of 21 days for a person to change a habit.  The key is replacing the old habit with a new one.  Give it 21 days - take the travel mug wherever you go.  Wash it every night, and then put it back in the car.  On the 22nd day, you probably won't even think about it - you'll just do it.

There has to be cooperation and dedication from each of these groups for change to occur.  For the consumer, using a reusable travel mug, cup, etc. is easy, and will yield huge savings for Starbucks - a savings that will be passed on to you.