Campaign win: Starbucks promises recyclable AND compostable cup by 2021

May 16, 2018
Starbucks-Cup-Wall launched the #BetterCup campaign calling on Starbucks to make a coffee cup that can be more easily recycled. 

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.