Starbucks Cups Destroy Forests: 8000+ Paper Cups a Minute Used Once & Trashed

07/11/2016 07:54 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2017

On Thursday, July 7, at 6:20 a.m. a yellow Penske rental truck pulled up in front of Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle. Ten Stand.earth volunteers jumped into the back of the truck and pulled out a series of 62 large plastic bags each of which was dangling from a long steel cable. It weighed a lot and the volunteers slowly, methodically laid it out this giant caterpillar-like thing on the sidewalk and began removing the hefty bags. Inside each bag were hundreds of Starbucks paper cups strung together in 11-foot lines that, when the steel cable was lifted, would form a 75 foot long wall of cups. In total there were 8,181 paper cups. When the volunteers strung that steel cable between two telephone poles all 8,181 cups formed a massive wall that from the street obscured the Starbucks main entrance.

8,181 is a lot of cups: it's the number of paper coffee cups that Starbucks serves every minute, every day of the year. The vast majority of those cups are thrown in the trash. The banner that hung alongside the wall of cups read: Starbucks Cups Destroy Forests.

The volunteers were met with incredulous private security officers who blocked them from entering the building to deliver copies of Stand's new report, Starbucks Cuts Forests for Cups. Our volunteers were heartened, however, by employees who streamed by the cup display, many stopping to thank us for pushing the company to follow through on its commitment to serve a better cup.

Starbucks, in a statement on our action quoted by the Globalist, stated:

"We have made a commitment and have never wavered from our efforts to make our cup recyclable..."

If by "never wavered" Starbucks means "we have made nearly zero progress" on altering the forest destroying nature of their cups, then we agree. In 2008 Starbucks made a public commitment to make its cups recyclable by 2015, meaning recyclable with regular paper recycling everywhere they served coffee. What the company fails to mention is that they failed to deliver. Why aren't current Starbucks paper cups recyclable? In order to hold liquid, they are lined with plastic made by the Dow Chemicals and Chevron Oils of the world, which makes recycling them with regular paper a major problem. But cups without that specific plastic lining that can hold hot liquids already exist. Starbucks is a huge consumer of paper cups and could demand those cups from their cup suppliers, but there's no indication that's happened.

Starbucks, which once committed to taking full responsibility for delivering a solution to disposable cups, instead passed the buck in their statement:

"What is recyclable varies significantly by municipality and sometimes even by store, and we pay local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost and trash."

That sounds very complicated. But here's something that's simple: wouldn't it make sense to use a cup that's recyclable anywhere that regular paper is recycled? No private haulers, no schlepping things across the country - all that's needed is a better cup!

Starbucks is just the type of innovative company that could be leading the charge to switch to an environmentally-friendly alternative. With 4.3 billion paper coffee cups leaving their stores each year, Starbucks has the chance to make a real difference. But instead of going with innovation and leadership, Starbucks is leaning on PR games and passing the buck. Their statement concludes:

"We're proud of the progress we've made, have annually reported and consistently shared our success and our challenges, and will continue to advocate to key policymakers and do even more within the industry to address the issue."

Starbucks, we can't wait to be proud of you. But with 8,000 cups a minute going straight into the trash, more than a million trees being cut annually to produce them, and big costs to our climate, you've got a long way to go.

It's time to stop wavering, stop passing the buck, and give us a Better Cup that doesn't destroy forests, create carbon pollution, or embarrass your mermaid and your customers who expect you to live up to your promises. Let Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz know you demand a better cup by signing our petition here.