Green Lifestyle

Published on June 12th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


Recycling at Starbucks – A Cup, Recycling Practices, and You

The last time I wrote, I was traveling around Japan, taking note of all the recycling practices that are in place countrywide and wondering how these practices might be replicated in America.  One place in particular that I found myself most awed was Starbucks, the iconic American coffee house.


hmmm, think we need recycling for Starbucks…?

The difference of recycling that Starbucks offers in Tokyo versus here in the USA is large; and quite honestly, I’m appalled that Starbucks doesn’t offer the same kind of recycling in the US. While recycling might be more ingrained into the culture in Japan, Starbucks is an American company, and for all of their “sustainable and responsible business practice as a company” talk, they should reflect it globally, not just depending on local cultural practices and rules. (I did read their website, by the way, and they are working to have Front Store Recycling in every store by 2015.)

look how easy!

look how easy!


Starbucks makes it easy to recycle in Japan

I also don’t want to sound like I’m bashing Starbucks, because I am not. I enjoy my caramel macchiato and instant coffee packets as much as the next person, but with each coffee cup stopper I’ve been given to keep my beverage warm, I’ve wondered, “how am I going to recycle this thing?”

Upon my return to the United States in January, I discovered that Starbucks was selling a reusable grande size plastic cup, complete with lid, for $1.00.  Every time I visit Starbucks and bring my cup, I receive a $.10 discount!  Hardly a deal, but I compare it to bringing my own bag to Whole Foods when I shop. It’s a $.10 discount, but it reminds me to carry a bag.

When I purchased my cup the barista told me as long as I didn’t put the cup in the dishwasher, I’d have it for a while.  I’m proud to say that my cup lasted four months, even though an article on Forbes stated that the cup would last only a month.  What made it even better, is that the plastic used to make the cups is a “5” plastic, meaning that while I can’t easily recycle it, I could drop it into the bin at Whole Foods for recycling through Preserve’s  “Gimme Five” Recycling Program. Once that was done, I went to a local Starbucks and bought a replacement.


reusable Starbucks cup

Now, this is all good direction and it made my heart just a little bit happier, especially considering that my personal situation is a bit rocky – I don’t have a kitchen – and I’ve been drinking instant coffee instead of buying whole coffee beans, grinding them for my French press, and then composting the used grounds  – but I am still bothered that if I don’t have my coffee cup with me to use at various Starbucks around the USA, I end up with a paper cup and a plastic lid, and nothing but a garbage can for disposal.  It also bothers me that many others won’t think to recycle the number five plastic at a Whole Foods; they may just trash the damaged cup and move on.

And so it goes back to my question of how do we make this a cultural shift without demanding too much from our American culture? How do we softly ask for people to make changes to their daily lives instead of making them feel like they are being forced to do?  We only have to look at the recently failed attempt to ban excessively large sodas in NYC to see how much of a challenge we have ahead of ourselves.  I know, these examples are two separate sides of a coin here, but my point is that that when people feel they are forced to do something, give something up, or act differently, they rebel.

I love that Starbucks is working to make changes and to then put those changes in the hands of the millions of customers globally, but the peril of climate change is real and we need to urgently work to make positive changes.

What I loved most about Starbucks in Japan was that I knew where to drop my plastic lid, paper cup, extra liquid, and paper products without a thought. I truly believe that that is what we need to implement here in the US. We need to make Recycling less of a personal choice and more of a priority, a cultural priority, but one where it seems like it’s always been the way.

If Starbucks takes the lead in creating action – where people automatically have the tools to recycle at their hands and then do it without thinking – then they can be more of a leader in this area and will impact greater change, even when you factor in those individuals who will not participate.

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