Starbucks customers expect the iconic red cup to appear every year for the holiday period but this year on the usual launch date of November 1st, a green cup symbolising unity was produced. However, the long awaited red cup has now appeared and, as in previous years, has attracted a fair amount of criticism because it is mostly non-recyclable.
Surprisingly, the festive red cup remains very popular. This year the cup is decorated with images of stags, Christmas lights and wreaths in white, probably due to complaints from customers that last year’s red cup was too plain. Although the cups can be recycled in a very limited number of places, the plastic lining of the cups means that they usually end up in landfill. Yes, special Christmas flavours such as gingerbread, almond and peppermint do signify the beginning of the holiday period to many Starbucks fans, but many believe that the firm should consider the environmental impact of the cups in which these festive beverages are served.
Despite the fact that Starbucks states that it is working towards better solutions and three “cup summits” have been held to discuss possible solutions, the coffee retailer tends to blame others for the fact that it is generating so much waste. According to Starbucks, landlords and municipal recycling facilities are at fault for the limitations on plastic waste recycling.
Rather than concentrating on plastic recycling, Starbucks claim that it intends to dramatically increase the use of reusable cups by its customers. However, despite pledging to find a solution to the problem by making its cups recyclable and serving more coffee in reusable cups, the company failed to meet the goals it set for 2012 and 2015.
Effective plastic waste recycling means that it is entirely possible to recycle a significant percentage of plastic materials. However, Starbucks could introduce 100% recyclable paper cups if it were prepared to dispense with the plastic lining of the current cups. The coffee could be consumed before any problems with paper cups occurred, and this would make a major difference to overall environmental impact.
According to advocacy organisation Stand, Starbucks will have responsibility for 580 million unrecyclable waste cups from now up to New Year. Eight thousand cups per minute are distributed world-wide by the chain, and these cannot be recycled in most places.
There was a protest outside the Westlake Center Starbucks in Seattle which was organised by Stand. The activists displayed a 12-foot high red “holiday” cup as a symbol for the waste and gave passers-by disposable and recyclable paper cups to show how absurd they believe Starbucks position to be.
Since plastic recycling remains problematic for Starbucks cups, if it were concerned about the environmental impact, the company could offer better incentives to customers who bring their own (reusable) cups. In the US, a reduction of $1 off a coffee served in a reusable cup rather than just a 10 cent reduction would make a real difference and would encourage consumers to recognise the importance of using sustainable materials.