Sep 20, 2011


Starbucks sells on average 8.2 million paper cups of coffee a day, all of which can be recycled, but most still end up in landfills.
The world’s biggest coffee chain wants to change that by convincing everyone from recycling companies to paper mills that it’s worth the effort to recycle paper cups. But the strategy has proved a hard sell, calling attention to a widespread problem in the recycling movement: Just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean it gets recycled.
About 25 percent of items thrown into home recycling bins are never recycled, said Susan Collins, executive director of the nonprofit group Container Recycling Institute. Oftentimes items are deemed unusable by the time they reach recycling centers because they are contaminated with food or laced with broken glass from containers that shattered in the same bin.
Currently, recycling companies want to focus on other materials, like cardboard and aluminum, for which there is an attractive resale market. That’s not the case with paper cups, forcing Starbucks to try to collect as many of its own cups as it can, strike deals with companies to recycle them, and then agree in some cases to buy back the material.
“You can collect all of this stuff,’’ said Christine Beling of the Environmental Protection Agency, who agrees with Starbucks’ approach. “But unless you have someone to buy it from you, who cares?’’
With paper cups for coffee, there is another major issue: Many recycling companies don’t have the equipment to separate the cup’s paper from its inner lining which prevents hot liquids from leaking.
To improve collections, Starbucks has been installing special bins designed to segregate coffee cups from other waste; the chain recently introduced them in all 30 of the company’s stores in the Boston area. The chain is then lining up companies that have agreed to recycle its cups, which have been made of 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber since 2006. In Massachusetts, Starbucks is working with RockTenn, with plants scattered across the United States, to collect the cups, recycle them, and sell the material to paper mills.
In some markets, such as New York and Chicago, the company is working with paper mills and recycling centers to turn some of the recycled paper cups into napkins used by Starbucks.
“The focus is often, ‘What can I do to the cup to make it more recyclable?’ ’’ said Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental impact. “What’s more important is, ‘What can I do to the infrastructure to make these cups more recyclable?’ ’’


  1. The recycling bins at work are really complicated -- and some items could go into multiple bins. Make it simple!

  2. The bigger problem is educating and making this a habit among consumers, the separating and proper recycling. The extra effort that it takes to insure that clean recyclables are put in the proper container on a large scale to make it a profitable exercise, is something that most people cannot see. I think that is why it is tough to get Americans to recycle, because the evidence and profits tend to be hard to see because they aren't tangible.

  3. Now I read my news online. But back in the day, I used to recycle my newspapers. I would tie them up with cord and lug them 30 miles away to a place that collected them. Then one week, they told me to STOP bringing them. Said they had too many and didn't need anymore. Are you kidding me? They actually went out of business because the procedures involved were too complicated for them to continue. Such a shame.

  4. I think there is more we could all do on the recycling effort. Love that photo. If businesses and restaurants had some sort of recycling center there in the store/restaurant wouldn't we all be given such an example? I used to recycle but we do not even have convenient recycling centers available here. You can do it but it's inconvenient. There is not an infrastructure for it. There was a craze around 2000 and also mid 90's and that has phased out.


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