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Starbucks: It's the cups, stupid...

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on April 9, 2008

Starbucks Old Logo 2.jpg

The recent Bryant Park and Pike Place appearances of Starbucks ceo Howard Schultz remind me of Proust trying to reconjure his madeleine.

So many of Schlutz’s actions are all so In Search of Lost Time. (For the hands-down best primer on all things nouveau Starbucks, see

The question is: is going back the right way to go forward? God knows I’d love a less-burnt brew. And I’m all in favor of the new Clovers, the old logo, and the free refill policy.

But if Schlutz really wants to get serious about moving Starbucks in the direction of the thing that originally made them famous—a new experience—then there is one thing the company can do that it isn’t:

Every time people swallow their caffeine, they also get a dollop of guilt for having to toss the cup. What waste. So, Starbucks, be the first coffee chain to offer corn-based, compostable, sustainable coffee cups. (The green bakery Birdbath, run by City Bakery, is already doing this). Then provide separate bins so people can toss the cups as well as their guilt. What you are currently offering—10% reycled paper cups—is a joke.

And another thing: Starbucks has no serious reusable cup program.
If you do buy one of Starbucks’ reusable cups, the company says it will give you a discount. But most of the baristas have no idea about the discount, nor do they know how to key it in. Also: the discount is lame. Amp it up.

Figure out a solution: a guilt-free coffee experience. And a serious reward program for people who use reusable cups.

That would be progress.

You are, after all, from Seattle.

Reader Comments

Michelle Conlin

May 7, 2008 4:43 PM

Here is the response I got from Starbucks after I wrote this post:

Hi Michelle,

I just got a chance to read your article online titled, “Starbucks: It’s the cups, stupid…” I wasn’t sure if you reached out to any of us here at Starbucks before you ran your piece but I’d love to set up an information share with you and our head of Environmental Affairs to provide you with why we decided to go with a 10% PCF cup versus a corn-based, compostable cup.

To give you a little background, we have spent more than ten years looking for opportunities to decrease the environmental impact of our disposable hot cups, and we focused on addressing the source of the paper we use to make our cups, basically directly addressing the upstream impact versus the downstream impact.

Starbucks was the first company in the United States to use 10 percent PCF fiber in hot beverage cups which, according to Environmental Defense’s Paper Calculator, has resulted in the company this significantly reduced the amount of wood we use by 11,300 tons-- the equivalent of 78,000 trees in the first year alone.

We pay a slight premium for the PCF cups and we believe the long-term impact of using this more environmentally-friendly option is worth the additional cost.

Other actions taken by Starbucks to reduce the environmental impacts of our disposable cups include:

Working to eliminate most double-cupping by utilizing corrugated hot beverage sleeves made of 60 percent post-consumer recycled fiber.
Offering customers a $0.10 discount when they use their own reusable cups. Customers in the U.S. and Canada took advantage of this offer more than 17 million times in fiscal 2006, keeping 674,000 pounds of paper from going to the landfill.
Providing “for here” mugs for customers who choose to enjoy their beverages in-store.

Also, Starbucks ability to recycle customer and store waste, including cardboard, paper, milk jugs, and organic waste, is dependent on the availability of commercial recycling services where our stores are located. Our policy for Starbucks company-operated stores is that where recycling services are available, stores are expected to recycle. In fact, at the end of fiscal 2006, 79 percent of our U.S. and Canada company-operated stores where Starbucks controls waste and recycling had recycling programs in place, a slight increase over the previous year.

Unfortunately, many local communities that offer comprehensive residential recycling may provide minimal or no commercial recycling, which limits our ability to provide recycling within our stores. In those cases, we encourage our customers to consider taking recyclable items such as glass and plastic bottles with them to recycle outside the store.

Please let me know if you’d like me to set up the information share meeting and feel free to reach out to me when you’d like to get our perspective for your future stories. My contact information is included in my signature below.

Thanks for your time.


Anna Kim-Williams

Global Brand Strategy & Communications

Starbucks Coffee Company

206/318-8724 office

253/359-4761 cell

206/318-2386 fax

All information contained in this email is company confidential and for internal use only. Information should not be distributed beyond its intended scope of distribution.

Pplease consider the environment before printing this email

kathy ann

May 19, 2009 9:37 AM

I love the plastic cups--I like the idea of saving 10 cents---and the cups are really awesome!! I do have one problem--I can't find any of the venti size cups. I live in Houston, Texas 77077. I guess we Texas, we must all like the idea!!!! Any chance you can locate two venti size cups for me?? My husband and daughter are depserate for one!! Thank you so much!!

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