Starbucks Pilots Coffee Cup Recycling Program

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Approximately 3 billion Starbucks coffee cups are sent to the landfill each year, but a new recycling program in New York may help to curb that statistic.

Through a partnership with Green Global USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR), seven Starbucks stores in Manhattan began participating in a pilot program last week. Paper coffee cups will be collected and combined with old corrugated cardboard (OCC) for recycling.

Photo: Amanda Wills,

Starbucks has a goal to create a comprehensive recycling solution that will make the cups easier to recycle by 2012. Photo: Amanda Wills,

Until now, the thin polyethylene plastic coating that prevents liquid leakages has made it difficult for most commercial services to process the cups. For this reason, disposable coffee cups are only accepted for recycling in some communities in the U.S.

However, preliminary trials done at Western Michigan University’s Coating and Recycling Pilot Plant on samples of the cups found they are recyclable and re-pulpable.

Global Green USA reports that every year, 58 billion paper cups are used in the U.S. at restaurants, events and homes. If all paper cups in the U.S. were recycled, 645,000 tons of waste would be diverted from landfills each year.

According to Annie White, director of CoRR, “The lessons learned from the cup recycling pilot can be applied to the recycling of hamburger, pizza and French fry containers, and all sorts of other paper food packaging.”

Cups will be collected in special paper liner bins along with OCC and delivered to Pratt Industries to be recycled. “Within 72 hours after being discarded, the cups collected in this demonstration program will be component in linerboard used to form New York’s take-out pizza boxes,” White said.

The results of the pilot program will be available in November.

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  1. Though Starbucks is taking a step in the right direction by offering to recycle their cups, it doesn’t really solve the problem at hand. Most people who buy coffee at Starbucks don’t finish their drinks and dispose of them before they leave. Instead, they often take their coffee to go. I sincerely doubt that most customers will bring their empty cups back to Starbucks for recycling. What Starbucks should do is encourage customers to buy and fill their reusable mugs. For more on the dire facts about single use coffee cups, check out The Mug Project

  2. you mentioned that only certain communities in U.S. can deal with these cups. So how can it be introduced globally?? Beside Coffee cups, i also feel those cups served in KFC, Burager King, etc can be done so. Anyway we can bring this technology to South east asia??

  3. Re-usable cups are great. Where that can’t be done, the paper cups–not the lids–can be included in collection programs that take food and yard waste. We have food/yard waste collection in our part of Washington State. I’ll contact Starbucks (again) to suggest the local Starbucks stores collect the paper cups–along with food scraps and coffee grounds–and send them off to the local composting facility.

  4. I never did understand what these disposable cups are for, anyway. They used to be only for take-out with normal ceramic cups for use in the eating establishment. Thank goodness Starbucks (last time I went there) still has regular, nondisposable cups. No problem with landfills.

  5. i’m gonna have to agree with big green head. i work at mcdonalds and everyday i see soooo many people buy pop and they just throw them in the garbage when they are done with them. millions of people go to mcdonalds and other fast food resturants; just imagine how many paper cups get wasted everyday!

    When i get the chance, i’m going to a rep session (a talking session with some employees, the managers, and corpret) i am going to bring up the idea of having recyclable plastic cups or if we can sell reusuable mcdonalds mugs or cups.

    All of our McCafe drinks and orange juices are in plastic #1 recycleable cups, but most people are not gonna want to bring around empty cups with them and try to find a place to recycle them so i say we should have recycling cans around and in mcdonalds. even if we are going to have to empty the recycling everyday, it isnt that hard to bring it to the big recycling bins in town. where i live, there are 2 places that i know of that take recycling.

    Save the World!
    -Green Girl

  6. Starbucks could sell reusable mugs and encourage their customers to use them by getting a discount on their drink when using the mug. That’s the way to go. The company could have a recycling program in place, recycling should begin with the source, the company that uses them to sell their product.

  7. It would really be best for Starbucks to lose the plastic lining in the cups. Plastic is not renewable and the time has come to eliminate it from single use disposable food packaging.

  8. I went to Starbucks with my reusable mug today. I told each person I dealt with that I was using a reusable mug, the guy who took my order online, the cashier and the barista. Each of them, with varying degrees of snarkiness said that they understand the concept of a “reusable mug.” The cashier even gave me my 10 cent cup discount on my $6 coffee. After waiting patiently for my coffee, I was watching the barista with my mug thinking, he’ll start making my coffee soon, when the other barista gave me my coffee in a big paper cup.

    When I asked her why they didn’t use my reusable cup, after I asked repeatedly, she looked at me like I had three heads.

    They can make you a doubleshot/extradry/triplewhip/halfcaf/fullfoam/halffat/triplepump/soy/cappuchino but can’t figure out how to use a reusable mug.

    The program is ridiculous. People walk down the street and throw their cups in the garbage and won’t save them and walk them back into a Starbucks to recycle. And even if recycled, where do you think the pizza boxes end up?

    Why not just give those of us who use reusable mugs a dollar discount? Affect consumer choices with financial incentives not some pie in the sky post-consumer initiative that makes no logical sense.

    Starbucks FAIL

  9. I brought in my own travel mug at Starbucks and the barista used a paper cup to measure the amount of a tall size, poured it into my mug, then tossed the paper cup into the garbage. Oh, and I didn’t get my whopping 10 cent discount either.
    The best and cost-effective way to reduce coffee cups in the landfill is to make your own coffee.

  10. Why not make the cups and lids made totally from plastic. As opposed to trying to recycle a coffee cup which is half paper and plastic away. By making it out of totally plastic, then the whole product can be recycled back into another coffee cup. The original making of the plastic cup is the same if not worse for the environment then the paper, but the paper cup can only be used once but the plastic can be recycled continuosly if they are recycled together (based on the same chemical composition) into another coffee cup, continuing the lifecycle of the plastic cup. We are after a closed system!

  11. I recently found a paper Starbucks cup that I had put into one of my worm bins. The worms had eaten the paper, and all that was left was a sizable plastic sheath. I was alarmed. It’s interesting to read that they have found a way to recycle them.

  12. I save my McDonald coffee, have about 200 of them, will bring my own cup in the future and send these back to the corporate office.

  13. I believe that Starbucks has saved my life quite several times, and I am aware of the BIG benefits of recycling when we talk about facts and figures. I think that earth deserves a break, when it comes about us returning to it all that good it has offered. As a member of Rotary International, I am truly fond of taking care of and even pampering some place that gives me so much to do, to think about and to enjoy…
    Those of us who have ecological conscience, that think of ‘keeping the poop in the scoop’, can understand the satisfaction it brings to know that you are being responsible citizen of the world!

  14. Mr. Grean Jeans.. You stand corrected.. you have it backwards.. the bi-material PAPER is not recyclable.. but the PLASTIC cup IS!

    Thomas- you are exactly right.. the PLASTIC cups.. yes, even a NICE LOOKING (can accept decoration and logo print better than recycled fiber), INSULATING (yes. again.. paper fails… styrofoam™..available in many unique forms.. does NOT have to look like the sterile white bland look of a bulk styrofoam™ stack of boy scout-issue coffee cups in a clear plastic sleeve and insulates 8 times better than even laminated paper cups!), INEXPENSIVE (yes, again.. cardboard/paper cups fail… EPS – styrofoam™ – unlike some plastics – can be recycled an infinite number of times. they are not effected by what is referred to as ‘heat history’- estimates are that with a storefront recycle system – see – can reduce the price of a cup from the current $.04 paper to $.001 EPS x 3,000,000,000 cups per year = $117,000,000 savings per year!)… AND be 100% recycled. …….
    but it gets better…. the guys at have perfected a process to reprocess the styrofoam™ and actually produce the reusable coffee mugs from the actual recycled styrofoam™!!!!

    why downgrade the material into a ‘pizza box’…. which may never be recycled… when you can UPCYCLE it into a $4.00 reusable mug???
    Why hasn’t Starbucks knocked on the door of these guys???? they have operations already in operation in California and I think Arizona too…

    reusing paper is a good idea, sure… but a 100% reusable, recycleable plastic container allows for in-store recycling and unlimited remanufacture…. PROBLEM SOLVED!!!! STARBUCKS… IF YOU ARE LISTENING…. CONTACT GREENFREAKRECYCLING TODAY>……. .

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