Campaign win: Starbucks promises recyclable AND compostable cup by 2021

Recycling coffee cups is a win for our climate — because fewer trees will be cut down to make those cups in the first place.


The movement to stop climate change comes in many shapes and forms, including our work to stop deforestation — preventing trees from being cut down just so they can be turned into single-use items like coffee cups that are used once and thrown away. 

That’s why in 2016 launched the #BetterCup campaign calling on Starbucks to make a coffee cup that can be more easily recycled. And on March 20, 2018, after a two-year campaign and pressure from thousands of customers, Starbucks finally promised to deliver a recyclable and compostable paper cup by 2021.

Recycling coffee cups is a win for our climate — because fewer trees will be cut down to make those cups in the first place.

Read the Seattle Times story: As coffee-cup controversy simmers, Starbucks vows to spend $10M to invent new ones

2021 is three years away, and until then, we’ll be keeping our eye on the progress Starbucks makes toward its pledge. Their promise to make a recyclable and compostable cup will result in truly game-changing technology — not just for the coffee industry, but for all restaurants and other businesses that use paper cups.

Along with this great news came other signs of progress from the Starbucks: 

But as recent media coverage shows, the coffee giant’s cup problem isn’t over yet:

From questions over where our recycling really goes to challenges with why most paper cups are ending up in landfills — Starbucks can take more concrete steps to take leadership in the coffee industry.

We suggest three next steps for Starbucks:

1. Reduce single-use cups and promote reusable cups. Starbucks should voluntarily try a “cup fee and customer prompt” program in North America in 2018, and implement it in 2019. 

  • Cup fee: Customers who bring their own reusable cup will get a discount on the cost of their coffee, while customers who require a single-use coffee cup will pay extra to account for the costs associated with recycling the cup. That gives consumers a choice.

Customer prompt: Baristas ask the simple question: “Which cup?” and apply a $0.25 discount when a customer brings their own cup or charge customers $0.25 for a single-use paper cup. A total price difference of $.50 would be a strong incentive for many consumers and would motivate them to switch to a reusable cup.

2. Increase recyclable content. Starbucks should launch its 20% post-consumer recycled fiber cup in 2019. Starbucks led the way on developing a 10% post-consumer reycled fiber cup in 2006, but now 25% recycled fiber cups are possible.

3. Trial a recyclable cup. Instead of waiting until 2021 to keep its promise of delivering a compostable and recyclable cup, Starbucks should publically trial a universally recyclable and reduced-polyethylene plastic-lined cup technology already commercially available and successful in the market.

In addition to its pledge to create a recyclable and compostable cup by 2021, taking these three steps would further demonstrate Starbucks' commitment to address the climate impact of the 4+ billion single-use paper coffee cups it sends to the landfill every year. And that's a win for us all.