How do you mass produce a paper cup for hot beverages that retains a liquid’s heat and prevents leaks without the use of pesky plastic linings, which many municipal waste systems lack the infrastucture to recycle? That’s the quandary that has plagued Starbucks for years without a clear solution.
Starbucks’ plastic waste has drawn the ire of Starbucks: Break Free From Plastics, a coalition spearheaded by grassroots environmental organization Stand.earth. The group demands that Starbucks address its plastic pollution.
And Starbucks is listening, to a degree.
On Tuesday, a day before the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, the coffee giant announced that it will spend $10 million on a three-year challenge that funds entrepreneurs working on fully-recyclable cup designs. “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition,” Colleen Chapman, vice president of Starbucks global social impact overseeing sustainability, wrote in a statement. The company’s research and development team also announced that it is launching a six-month trial of a new bio-liner, which will be tested for its ability to meet safety standards and its affects on the environment.
Still, environmental activists say that they’re not holding their breath, since Starbucks has pledged to redesign its paper cups several times in the past decade, but the company’s promises have largely remained unfulfilled. In 2008, Starbucks said it would create fully recyclable and biodegradable cups by 2015 and that it would sell 25 percent of its drinks in reusable cups in that time. But in fact, a Stand.earth report found that over four billion Starbucks cups end up in landfills each year.
Tired of waiting for action, a slew of environmental activists protested outside of the Seattle Center during the shareholder meeting Wednesday.
“Right now, Starbucks’ paper cups—the iconic white cups—aren’t disposable in every city globally, because of the plastic lining that it has,” said Stand.earth activist Vanessa Tsimoyianis as she walked toward the Seattle Center with a megaphone hanging at her side (as shown in Stand.earth video footage). “Only in a few cities can we actually recycle the cup.” Facing the camera as she clasped her hands, Tsimoyianis urged Starbucks to do away with one-time use lids, straws, and utensils. She also asked that the company design a completely recyclable cup. Walking beside her were Eve and Mya, two 11-year-old girls from Calgary, Canada who collected over 300,000 signatures for a Change.org petition asking Starbucks to reduce its plastic waste. A few people trailing behind them dragged two dollies stacked with green containers that held over 973,000 petition signatures from people calling for an end to Starbuck’s non-recyclable cups.
Protestors dressed as Starbucks cups and plastic waste greeted them at the center, while others recited the call-and-response chant: “When I say ‘Starbucks,’ you say ‘plastic.’ ”
The coalition isn’t planning on letting up on Starbucks until it fulfills its environmental promises.
“Be an industry leader,” Tsimoyianis shouted into the megaphone outside of the Starbucks shareholder meeting Wednesday. “We know that if you change the game, then everybody will follow.”