Starbucks Holds Summit on Recyclability of Cups

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In response to a commitment by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz last year that Starbucks’ entire stock of coffee cups will be recyclable by 2012, the company held a summit in Seattle recently to discuss the viability of cup recycling.

In addition to Schultz and other Starbucks employees, 30 representatives ranging from cup manufacturers to paper recyclers attended. Some of the research presented showed that many of the cups are already recyclable to recover paper pulp. In fact, a coffee cup can be converted into a pizza box in just three days.

Starbucks' goal is to produce a 100-percent recyclable cup by 2012. Photo: Scottfish.com

Starbucks' goal is to produce a 100-percent recyclable cup by 2012. Photo: Scottfish.com

Starbucks is looking to implement a pilot program in Manhattan in which specialized bins will be placed to collect cups and paper bags, which will then be sent to Staten Island’s Pratt Industries for recycling. The cups are already eligible for paper recycling programs in Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered.

The key to recyclability of paper cups is their material, as some (such as Starbucks’) are made of old corrugated cardboard (OCC), and others are mixed paper.

Mixed paper is a lower grade of paper that has less value when recycled. Although many of these cups are lined with wax for temperature control, this can be removed prior to recycling.

Panelists discussed the possibility of better labeling for these cups in regards to recyclability, with one suggesting that compostable cups be labeled with a brown stripe. North America is responsible for 60 percent of the 220 billion paper cups used globally each year.

In other Starbucks packaging news, the company switched to polypropylene (PP, aka #5 plastic) plastic cups for its iced drinks, where it previously used polyethylene terephthalate (PETE, aka #1 plastic). PP is a lighter resin of plastic, and although more recycling programs accept PETE, it is sometimes only accepted in bottle form.

Both resins can be recycled, with recycled products including plastic lumber (PETE) and hangers (PP).

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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