Starbucks Was Correct. Now Bring In Your Own Damn Cup!

Starbucks took a “kick in the middle” last month when their shareholders voted down a resolution from As You Sow that would’ve forced Starbucks to develop a comprehensive plan for in-store recycling and a commitment to disclosing and increasing use of recycled content in their consumer products and plastic lined coffee cups. Starbuck’s consumer products include Ethos Water (plastic), Frappucino (glass) and Doubleshot (aluminum). But the focus was on the cups – all 3 billion of them that are consumed in the US annually. Starbuck’s plastic-lined cups are made from 10% post-consumer recycled fiber and are not recyclable; Starbucks hopes to remedy this by creating a fully recyclable cup by 2012.

Starbucks Shared PlanetBy voting down As You Sow’s resolution, Starbucks and its shareholders took a hit in the media and blogosphere. Starbucks responded by stating they are not abandoning recycling and green initiatives and encouraged people to check out their corporate responsibility program, Shared Planet.

To us, this seems like another Jubbling no-brainer. Yes, Starbucks’ shareholders did vote down this initiative and yes, they are about 90% away from their goal of having fully recyclable cups. But whose responsibility is it? That’s the no-brainer part and where we as consumers need to take responsibility and bring in our own traveler mugs. By using our own cups, mugs, tumblers etc., we can cut down the amount that has to be recycled. It all goes back to the idea of pre-cycling and it’s definitely preferred over the cost of throwing out or recycling cups.

And Starbucks has incentivized this effort by offering a $.10 discount on any drink consumed in your own container. A perk Starbucks has been offering since 1985. And on April 15th, Starbucks went a step further and offered a free cup of drip coffee to anyone that brought in their own tumbler. I’m sure the motivation for this offer had less to do with tax day and was more about encouraging customer’s to beat a path to their local Starbucks with their own mugs.

Some other ideas for encouraging the use of tumblers and cups include:

  • Remind coffee drinkers that coffee tastes and will retain heat better in a stainless steel or ceramic mug.
  • Have cheap, reusable “guilt” cups by the register for people who forget their cups.
  • Offer a free drink every 5th time somebody uses their own cup. Raw materials wise, giving a free coffee every 5th visit is probably cheaper for Starbucks than giving $.10 each time. Plus, it’s more valuable and motivating for the customer.

Of course we’d like to see Stabucks add in-store recycling and move in a direction of including more recycled content in their packaging. But in-store recycling probably won’t happen until Starbucks starts producing recyclable cups. If they added recycling now, fishing the plastic lined cups out of the bin would almost be a full-time job. Plus, Starbucks employees would be questioned and confronted with the fact that they’re cups are not recyclable when customers use the bins.

But the onus shouldn’t be heaped on Starbucks alone. As customers, we need to accept our share and look at using our own mugs/tumblers as an opportunity to buy “bulk” coffee and save another cup in the process. No packaging or recycling required and a $.10 reward to boot. I’m just as guilty as the next person so it’s also up to me to bring in my own damn cup.

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  1. shelli huang says:

    charge for it, behavior follows $ sign. Look at when gas price rose per gallon, people’s consumption of gas dropped. Charge 2 extra dollars for using paper cup vs bring your mug, watch if people will change their behavior. where you create trash is where the responsibilities lies, consumer and producer alike. charge for trash-making and less trash will be produced.

  2. Jame Rainer says:

    Huge starbucks coffee fan. never once brought in my own mug. is the dime enough to motivate me? not alone. having a hot barista appreciate my efforts is all the motivation i need.