Starbucks 3 Billion Paper Cups Need to Go Somewhere

starbucks-big cupStarbucks is finding new ways to use the 3 billion paper cups its customers use each year, even in cities where recycling is not popular or mandated.

This fall, it will send cups used at its Chicago stores to Green Bay, where a Georgia Pacific paper mill will turn them into Starbucks napkins. The effort is a major push by Starbucks to create a commercial market for its used cups, which include 1 billion plastic cups for cold drinks.

Over the past few weeks, it has put recycle and compost bins into 90 Seattle stores to comply with a new city ordinance.

By Thursday, every grocery store, restaurant and coffee shop in Seattle will be required to recycle and compost, and to provide recyclable or compostable to-go packaging for everything from ground beef to lattes. The new ordinance will prevent 6,000 tons of food and service ware from piling onto garbage heaps. Starbucks’ cups also are recycled or composted in San Francisco and Ontario, because of laws there.

In areas without such mandates, commercial demand determines which products are recycled.

“The biggest roadblock to recycling is the lack of demand” for old paper, said Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental impact and global responsibility. “We need to create demand for recyclers for our products.”

The effort is similar to something Coca-Cola has done in South Carolina, where it invested $60 million in a plant that makes soda pop bottles from old soda bottles and other recycled plastic.

Environmental activists at the As You Sow Foundation in San Francisco, which led a shareholder initiative earlier this year to push Starbucks to recycle more, is impressed with its latest efforts. The initiative received 11 percent of the vote, a healthy chunk considering that mutual funds and other institutions own three-quarters of Starbucks’ stock.

“Their goal is not just to have recycling bins in stores by 2015, but to find markets so all those paper cups actually get recycled,” said Conrad MacKerron, director of corporate social responsibility at the nonprofit. Finding a market for paper cups is harder than for items like aluminum cans, he said.

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