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Starbucks Environment

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Starbucks' double trouble: nested cups

Given the billions of cups of coffee that Starbucks serves every year, any strategy for reducing the company's environmental impact had to address its paper cup. In the past, Starbucks often served its hot brews in two paper cups, for the sake of its customers' fingers. Because the cups are made from 100 percent bleached virgin paperboard, which has serious environmental impacts, Environmental Defense realized both the coffee company and its patrons wanted an alternative to double cupping.

"Paper is a tremendously resource-intensive product to produce," explains project manager Victoria Mills, "and the decomposition of paper in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide."

After much research, tests and a series of focus groups, we recommended two environmental and economic improvements to Starbucks cups: introduce reusable cups and design a new, environmentally preferable single-use cup. To this day, Starbucks customers who bring in their own reusable cups get a ten cent discount on their cup of joe--it's one of the best ways to enjoy a green green tea or coffee.

Paving the way to a better paper cup

To tackle the problem of the paper cup, the project team challenged Starbucks' suppliers to find better materials and designs for its disposable cups. The team evaluated several designs, which included adding an insulated outer layer made from unbleached recycled fiber. (Recycled content in direct food contact applications was not yet ready for prime time--see "An environmental first" below)

In January 1997, Starbucks introduced a corrugated paper sleeve to serve as an insulating layer instead of the second cup. The project team concluded that the sleeve, made from 60 percent postconsumer recycled fiber and 45 percent lighter than the second cup, was the best environmental alternative to double-cupping. Meanwhile, Starbucks also moved ahead with broader environmental efforts across major areas of its operations, from coffee growing and processing to store construction. Our partnership with Starbucks ended in the late 1990s, but we had gotten the ball rolling in search of a better cup.




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