Protesters Camped Outside Starbucks Headquarters Demand Fully Recyclable Cups

Nov 29, 2017

A group of protestors is camping outside of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, demanding a fully recyclable paper cup for its coffee beverages. They plan to be there all week.

Bellingham-based Stand.earth started camping out Monday. 

The group has been at this for a while. They have a 12-foot puppet-like monster they call Grounds, made of more than 1,000 cups, who has appeared at several past protests. They also put up a wall of cups about 13 feet tall and 100 feet wide. They say it represents the number of cups that Starbucks stores are using every minute. 

“They use over 4 billion cups a year and that works out over 8,000 cups a minute, which means every minute of every day of every year, 8,000 cups are ending up in the landfill. And the reason that is, is because of the cups lining,” said Jim Ace, Stand.earth’s corporate campaigner.

The cups are lined with plastic, which makes them very hard to recycle. Most utilities don’t have the right equipment, so they end up in the trash. In several cities, including Seattle, they are actually collected for recycling, but have to be shipped overseas for processing.

As a result, Starbucks insisted in an emailed statement that their cups are “recyclable” and called the protests outside their headquarters “misguided” because they oversimplify the complexities of recycling in the United States.

No one seems to dispute that Starbucks has made an effort. A post on the company’s website describes its “Quest for a Greener Cup” as one that has lasted “for more than 30 years.”

Eleven years ago, Starbucks introduced hot cups made with 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, the first of their kind approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company continues to sell reusable cups and mugs and encourages customers to bring them in. This year, it has been deploying new plastic lids that are recyclable.

Starbucks even held three “cup summits” in 2009, 2010 and 2011 to work on the issue, in an attempt to meet ambitious recycling goals, including a pledge to get to 100 percent reusable or recyclable cups by 2015, which it reported in 2014 could not be met.   

But Starbucks says it will continue to work with manufacturers on commercially viable cup-lining solutions that meet their quality and safety standards.

Ace says Starbucks’ size makes it an obvious target, especially since its leadership has already acknowledged this issue as a huge environmental liability.

“By changing how the cups are made, by changing the lining of the cup, we can change the entire industry and provide access. Really it’s the key to unlocking all this fiber that we could be re-using and therefore saving forests,” he said.

The non-profit activist foundation As You Sow filed a shareholder resolution in October, asking Starbucks to recommit to its 2008 goals to create a recyclable paper cup and further increase the use of reusable mugs. Both groups are expected to be out in full force at the next Starbucks annual meeting.