An Open Letter to Starbucks Staff

Let's talk about the Starbucks paper cup

Dear Starbucks Partners,

Thank you so much for engaging with us this week at the Starbucks Headquarters. Our interactions with you have confirmed what a smart, friendly, and committed group of people you are. We visited for a simple reason — to encourage Starbucks to live up to the commitment it made in 2008 to make a fully recyclable cup by 2015. 

We know that Starbucks takes sustainability seriously. We applaud your hard work on this and respect your company’s ability to solve vexing environmental problems, like how to source sustainably grown coffee. We believe you can apply the same ingenuity to producing a 100% recyclable paper cup.

As you may know, Starbucks paper cups are currently lined with a thin layer of 100% polyethylene plastic, which makes the cups inefficient and difficult to recycle in most facilities, because the plastic clogs their equipment. Starbucks is absolutely correct that there are a few large cities in the United States (including Seattle) that currently accept coffee cups for recycling, but it’s not at all clear what percentage of those cups actually end up being recycled. This is because the plastic lining adheres to the paper, limiting the amount of high-quality fiber that can be captured and repurposed.

We understand recycling is a complex issue, and agree that once the cup lining can be processed, municipalities should accept them. But accepting cups for recycling when they’re only going to end up in the landfill is counterproductive, and retrofitting​ ​even​ ​a​ ​fraction​ ​of​ ​the​ ​recycling​ ​facilities​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​(much​ ​less​ ​the world)​ ​just​ ​so​ ​they​ ​can​ ​handle​ ​the​ ​current​ ​Starbucks​ ​cups​ ​is​ ​both​ ​impractical​ ​and​ ​cost prohibitive.​ ​We’re asking Starbucks to take responsibility for what it directly controls — how its cups are made — rather than ​shifting ​responsibility​ ​onto​ ​cities.​ 

We would love the opportunity to celebrate your recycling successes — and have offered your executive leadership help with a third-party verification of the percentage of cups that actually end up being recycled.

Starbucks is a leader. When Starbucks decides it truly wants a 100% recyclable cup, we believe the industry will respond and develop a 100% recyclable cup. There's an opportunity for Starbucks to transform the global cup market and live up to the promise it made back in 2008. We want to work with you to see that promise fulfilled.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these issues. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions.

Yours truly for a #BetterCup,
Ross Hammond