Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Coffee Cup Saga - To Compost, To Recycle, or To Landfill? What is REALLY happening?

I don't buy Starbucks coffee. Yet, I some how get intertwined in figuring out what the heck is going on. 

I do not enjoy their coffee, but more importantly, I do not agree with their practices (how they source their coffee), and their misleading methods and greenwashing - i.e. having bins in their stores to "take-back" their coffee cups, but having them merely end up in the landfill. 

So, while these unaware citizens happily place their disposable, plastic ridden, petroleum lined cup in the bin, feeling good because they recycled....the truth is much harder to swallow.

To be fair, it's not just Starbucks, it's all coffee places where they do not have compostable cups but we think somehow they are being dealt with responsibly. 

Of course bringing ones own cup is the best option. But....what I think is scary is thinking we're doing good when we're not doing anything but the same, but only appears different. 
How do we change when we don't even know? When are a blinded and seduced into thinking we are "doing the right thing"? 

How do we get the word out? 

I just played the ol' rigamarole on the phone, being transferred from one person to another, as Starbucks failed to answer my, what I assumed were simple, questions:

1) Where do the cups go that are put in the "take-back" bins that I've seen in stores? 

2) They are meant to be recycled, but are they? 

Below is another exchange I had with them in 2013 but I had one again today, as I look for options for a client that comes into contact with a lot of Starbucks cups. It's frustrating how hard it is to find answers to such seemingly simple questions. Talking to multiple people at head office who are confused and dumbfounded as I ask, again, what I thought were pretty basic questions. 

Why weren't these questions answered from the get-go? As design was taking place? Why was this not on the minds of those who were birthing this? Shouldn't this be the most important thing we consider before we pump a product out into the environment, especially one that's getting consumed so rapidly and being tossed "away"? ....Surprise, there's no "away".

I'd love to tell my client, replace the Starbucks bistro with a local, organic, fair trade alternative....and, you know, I will suggest that...because then, we can be supporting local business, using compostable cups, or heck even refusing to serve in disposable cups - as one brave coffee company did in the US. Much respect their way. 

Maybe they won't take my recommendation, but I sure as heck won't be recommending they put in a bin that "take's back" Starbucks cups, only to then have them dumped into the same bin that garbage is...hauled away by the garbage truck. That's just misleading. 

Why are organizations not held accountable to this? Not liable to this? This is misleading the public.
Another interesting thing? MMBC now accepts Starbucks (and other) coffee cups in your blue bins as a Metro Vancouver resident (and other areas I believe too). But are they actually being recycled? 

It seems odd to me that they are accepted residentially, but not commercially. Why are they not accepted commercially? Because no recycling facilities exist. But recycling facilities, whether for commercial or residential are all the same - all stuff comes to the same what is going on? What is  actually happening? I have my ideas, but plan to find out for certain. 

What I do know is, we really need to stop blindly enforcing rules, and actually start asking questions, and following through on those.....what's the point otherwise? 

It is my goal to research this further, look deep into it, and ask more questions - ask the companies, ask the haulers, ask our city councillors and other people involved in these regulations and they realize how they play out in the "real world"? 

You can help too! Start asking questions, if you've already been asking them, great! Ask more! Or ask your friends to ask, too....! I don't think it's possible to ever ask enough questions (and that goes for all things in life, by the way). 

Pop into a Starbucks and see if they know what happens to the cups? Then share what you find out. 

Tweet @Starbucks and @RecyclingInBC @MultimaterialBC - ask them what's going on.

Gotta get the word out...... To be continued. 

Email response from CSR at Starbucks - Click to enlarge

If you can't read it in the image, here it is transcribed: 

Greetings Jocelynn!

Thank you for contacting Starbucks.

Thank you for your interest in our recycling processes.  Our disposable hot cups are made out of 10% post consumer recycled fiber for hot cupsused in the U.S and Canada.  I'm not sure if the wax lining is petroleum based or vegetable based, but the hot cups do contain an inner polyethylene lining which offers the side and bottom seam seal when heated.

As for your inquiry about the disposable cups being compostable or not, our cups are not rated as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute or Cedar Grove Composting.  However, in some areas local composters will accept our hot cups even though they have a plastic coating.  Your best bet would be to ask your local composting hauler to confirm if they will accept them or not.  Clean cold cups may be accepted for commercial and/or residential recycling, but again, please check with your local hauler for confirmation.

Regarding the actual recycling process, and what the cups eventually become as the end result of the recycling process, we generally have no control over that aspect.  Most of our stores are located in shared spaces like malls, where it is often the landlord who controls waste collection and recycling, not Starbucks.  For more information on this please visit
Thanks again for writing us.  If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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Shana G
customer service

Received: 7/25/13 8:55:00 PM MDT
To: <>
Subject: Corporate social responsibility

Hi,I'm both personally interested, and on the green team at work and have a few people ask me every now and again at work....and in general, I've been having this conversation/debate with people for a while now... I'm hoping someone can provide me with the answers! It is with regards to your disposable cups! 1) what are they made of? i.e. a % of post-consumer recycled paper, and new paper, and is the wax lining petroleum based or vegetable based? 2) this leads me to my next question which is - can they be composted? My rule was "if you can rip it, you can compost it" ...I can rip starbucks cups... so I've been composting them, BUT not in my own place, I compost by taking my stuff to a drop spot (I have a worm compost too but, the cups don't make it in there) I have not yet had a chance to see if there is any plasitcy residual upon composting... can you provide any insight? 3) lastly - what do you do with the cups you recycle in your stores - i.e. those blue bins you've put out, where it notes the cups get recycled - could I please have information on what that process is? how they are recycled, where they are recycled, and what the end recycled product is? Thank-you!


  1. I find this to be a bit twisted. Yet another example of what corporations are able to get away with. How is this labeling of "recycle" on bins who's contentest will be treated as garbage diffrent from false advertisement? Isn't the act of false advertising illegal? I actually find this to be worse than if the bins were garbage bins and people threw their cups in. Because thosee who wish to recycle would dispose of the cups themselves or be more inclined to bring their own. In this case, as you mentioned, many are disposing of these cups in falsenbelief of the destination and impact. Not beneficial, not beneficial at all..Thus I applaud you for shedding light on this case. I realise if Starbucks was to label "garbage" on those bins they'd lose some customers; I'm certain the realise that too. But we are the customers, we shape the demand. If we were all to bring our own cups, or tongues are our business to those more environmentally concious places like Starbucks would be forced to change the way they operate. Great way to drive the point while raising awareness I think. We are change.

  2. Well written! Used to work in starbucks and honestly they don't take back any cups lol they are all garbaged as you stated above! Thankyou for creating awareness of what exactly is happening!