Starbucks to Recycle Old Cups Into Napkins

Starting in the fall, Starbucks will send its used Chicago cups to the Georgia Pacific paper mill in Green Bay. Photo: Amanda Wills,

In an ongoing effort to figure out how to dispose of its 3 billion paper cups consumed annually, Starbucks stores in Chicago are partnering with a Wisconsin paper mill to recycle the cups into Starbucks napkins, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Starting in the fall, Starbucks will send its used Chicago cups to the Georgia Pacific paper mill in Green Bay.

The company has not yet announced how these cups will be collected from customers, but it would not be the first time the coffee chain addressed waste management in an entire metro area.

Earlier this month, Seattle stores installed compost and recycling bins and switched to compostable packaging for to-go containers as part of a new city law. However, paper cups were deemed “un-compostable” by the city’s compost partner Cedar Grove Composting, although they are accepted for recycling through the city’s curbside program.

In 2009, Starbucks locations in San Francisco added recycling and compost bins as part of the city’s mandatory composting ordinance. San Francisco’s composting partner found that the cups were, in fact, compostable.

And in New York, the cups are combined with corrugated cardboard and recycled through a partnership with Global Green USA.

Once Chicago’s recycling program is up and running, Starbucks will have addressed in-store cup recycling in four of the nation’s 13 largest markets. This comes at a time when large recyclers such as Waste Management have stated that the cups are not recycled in their program. So, for many consumers, the only recycling option would be to have them handled by individual stores.

The plastic lining on the inside of the cups makes them harder to recycle because this lining would need to be separated for the paper to be recycled. The same situation occurs with many milk and juice cartons: the plastic is coated to help protect liquid but poses disposal issues. According to Earth911’s recycling database, less than 12 percent of curbside programs currently accept these lined containers for recycling.

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Trey Granger


  1. As a Chicago based company, we are glad to see Starbucks work with their Chicago stores to participate in a waste to use program. As pointed out in the article, we have also seen various communities across the nation approach their commercial recycling efforts with varied and unique requirements, each with its own challenge’s. By increasing user awareness and working together with packaging, collection systems and waste and recycling companies these challenges can be overcome with successful recycling programs being put in place.

    Ken Goldberg * Business & Product Development * Ex-Cell Kaiser LLC * 11240 Melrose Ave. Franklin Park, IL 60131-1340 * P- 847-451-0451 ext 120 * F- 847-451-0458 * E-

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