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Cuppa Woe

Starbucks is finding that the economics of recycling paper cups doesn’t add up, reports Adam Minter in Bloomberg View (4/8/14). Adam, author of Junkyard Planet, cites Starbucks’ 2013 Global Responsibility Report (link), which stated it is currently recycling just 39 percent of its cups, far short of the 100% it had been projecting by 2015. While Starbucks sells some "4 billion disposable cups a year," the big problem, apparently, is that this is not "enough cups to make recycling a viable option."

According to John Mulcahy of Georgia-Pacific, "the paper in all the Starbucks cups used in a year amounts to less than a week’s worth of production at one of his company’s paper mills." In other words, "recycling Starbucks cups isn’t a business; it’s a test project worth pursuing for PR, and perhaps for the day when Starbucks and other restaurants pool their used paper cups in a way that makes them attractive as a business prospect."

Further complicating matters is that "Starbucks cups are lined with plastic to keep them from leaking, and that plastic needs to be removed before the cups can be transformed into new paper." Starbucks last week admitted in a statement that recycling "seems like simple, straightforward initiative" but is "actually quite challenging." Alternatively, composting cups "generates greenhouse gases while destroying the recycling value packed into the cup’s fibers. Reusable cups are a nice idea, but one that consumers simply don’t embrace."