An open letter to the coffee industry to ‘meet or beat’ Starbucks on recyclable cups

Coffee giants around the world must come up with their own groundbreaking solutions to address the impacts their unrecyclable coffee cups have on our forests and climate.

Starbucks plastic trash

In March 2018, Starbucks committed to bring a recyclable and compostable paper cup to market within three years. A week later, Stand.earth announced the next phase of its #BetterCup campaign, challenging several coffee giants — McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Costa, Tim Hortons, Peet’s, and Caribou — to “meet or beat” Starbucks. In an open letter to the CEOs, we called on them to come up with their own groundbreaking solutions to address the impacts their unrecyclable coffee cups have on our forests and climate. 

Today, we reiterate our call to coffee industry leaders:

Dear Coffee Industry Leaders,

To distinguish your brand, we urge you to "meet or beat" Starbucks’ pledges to bring a recyclable and compostable paper cup to market within three years, create a coffee cup with more recycled fiber, and reduce single-use paper cup consumption. Do what Starbucks and no other company seems willing to do, by tackling what is widely perceived as the retail coffee industry’s biggest environmental liability: the billions of unrecyclable, single-use paper cups. Here’s how you can “meet or beat” Starbucks:

1. Reduce single-use cup consumption by 25% in the long term, and serve more than 5% of your beverages in reusable cups by 2022.


Starbucks originally committed to serve 25% of drinks in reusable cups, but drastically reduced its pledge in 2012. Starbucks currently serves 2% of beverages in reusable cups, and plans to double that percentage by 2022. 

You can achieve this goal by incentivizing reusable cups and motivating customers to bring a reusable cup. Voluntarily charging customers a set amount to essentially pay for the purchase and recycling of a single-use cup has been proven to reduce consumption, especially when not framed as a penalty but as the cost of recycling. In addition, asking customers at the register “which cup would you like to use?” or a similar prompt has been shown to encourage customers to switch to a reusable cup.


2. Source paper coffee cups with 20% or more post-consumer recycled fiber — before Starbucks does.


Starbucks committed to a 20% post-consumer recycled fiber paper cup by 2022. But you can lead the industry by sourcing a recycled cup sooner. In addition, you should ensure the other 80% of cup fiber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Adopting an endangered forest policy will ensure your brand is not at risk by selling cups connected to sensitive forests.


3. Switch to reduced plastic and universally recyclable paper coffee cups that are available now.


Don’t wait three years for Starbucks to deliver on its promise of developing a recyclable and compostable paper cup. You can set your cafes apart NOW by switching to a reduced plastic and universally recyclable paper cup. Right now, there are commercially available paper cups with a lining technology with  51% less plastic than the cup lining widely used today. 


Sincerely,
Stand.earth

Background

Stand.earth launched the #BetterCup campaign in April 2016 after years of stonewalling by Starbucks and a refusal to change its practices. The campaign became a staple in Seattle, using creative imagery like the Cup Wall and Cup Monster to help people understand the problem with unrecyclable, plastic-lined coffee cups. 

The Cup Wall we built in front of Starbucks’ headquarters symbolizes the number of Starbucks cups thrown away every minute of every day — 8,000+ a minute, or 4+ billion each year. Learn more by reading our report: “The Secret of the Starbucks Cup.”

In March 2018, Stand.earth and dozens of global environmental organizations launched the “Starbucks: Break Free From Plastic” coalition, focused on Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting. Nearly one million people joined the campaign.