Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
As Starbucks Seeks Sustainable Cup Solutions, Shareholders Demand More Ambitious Action

Ahead of its Annual Meeting of Shareholders this week, Starbucks has announced it is committing $10M in partnership with Closed Loop Partners and its Center for the Circular Economy to develop a more sustainable coffee cup. Together, the organizations will establish a new consortium to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge, which will award accelerator grants to entrepreneurs working on potential cup solutions and encourage industry collaboration.

“Our store partners proudly pour sustainably sourced coffee in our 28,000 locations around the world, but everyone wants to take our ability to serve it sustainably to the next level,” said Colleen Chapman, VP of Starbucks global social impact overseeing sustainability. “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition.”

“We want to make sure this technology is available to everyone because it’s the right thing to do,” said Andy Corlett, Director of Packaging R&D for Starbucks. “The idea of environmental sustainability in packaging is not just a Starbucks issue. It’s a global issue. Anything that gets us closer to that goal is not something we want to keep to ourselves.”

Coinciding with the kickoff of the NextGen Cup Challenge, Starbucks’ R&D team is piloting a new liner for its paper cup made partially from plant-based materials. The internal trial, which will run for a period of six months, will test not only for environmental impact, but whether the liner can stand up to stringent safety requirements and quality standards when filled with a hot liquid. This is the 13th internal test of its kind in the last year alone as part of a continued effort to create a more sustainable coffee cup.

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Starbucks cups are currently manufactured with 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, the first prototype of its kind to be approved by the USFDA in 2006. The inside of the cup is coated with a thin liner designed to meet quality and safety standards, including preventing leaks. The cups are recyclable in cities with the appropriate infrastructure, such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Starbucks in pushing for broader acceptance and the use of a plant-based liner could help more municipal recycling and composting facilities process used cups. The company recently partnered with the National League of CitiesSustainable Cities Institute to advocate for model legislation and best practices to make access more widely available, ensuring consistency and reducing confusion about what materials are recyclable or compostable.

“Developing a plant-based liner that stands up to hot liquids and is commercially viable is incredibly hard, but we believe the solution is out there, not just for cups but for other exciting applications, like making straws greener, in the future,” said Rebecca Zimmer, Director of Global Environmental Impact for Starbucks.

Speaking of straws, Starbucks has designed a new lid for its Nitro Cold Brew Coffee that eliminates the need for a plastic straw. The lids are already available in more than 1,400 stores and later this year will be available to all US and Canada company-operated stores. However, shareholders believe more ambitious actions are needed to reduce the coffee giant’s global plastic footprint.

During tomorrow's annual general meeting, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and Lonely Whale founder Adrian Grenier will present As You Sow’s shareholder resolution asking Starbucks to phase out the estimated two billion non-recyclable green plastic straws it uses each year. The resolution requests aggressive plans for Starbucks to meet its packaging reuse and recycling goals the company set nine years ago but has yet to implement.

Starbucks pledged that by 2015, 25 percent of beverages would be served in reusable containers and 100 percent of paper and plastic cups would be recyclable at all owned stores. Today, less than 2 percent of beverages are served in reusable cups and only 60 percent of stores have cup recycling. These commitments relate mostly to North America; however, Starbucks is rapidly expanding in China and waste management is lacking. Waste generated in China, India and the Philippines contribute 44 percent of all marine plastic pollution.

“Investors have a fiduciary duty to understand their portfolio’s impact on the environment and on our global communities,” Grenier said in a statement. “Starbucks has named the planet its ‘most important business partner’; I aim to inspire the company to fully realize its partnership, which will not only ensure a long-term return for investors, but also for our environment. Our ocean is at a critical inflection point; we must come together in the spirit of radical collaboration and innovation to ensure a future with clean seas.”

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