Campaigners call for Starbucks to honour pledge to bring in ‘100 percent recyclable’ cup

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A coalition of environmental organisations is calling on Starbucks to fulfil a pledge made a decade ago to introduce widely recyclable cups in all its outlets.

Back in 2008, Starbucks said it would bring in a 100 per cent recyclable disposable cup to replace those currently used across its stores.

At the same time, the chain also said it would bring reusable cup usage to 25 per cent by 2015.

Neither of these pledges has been fulfilled, which has led a coalition of environmental organisations to call for renewed efforts from Starbucks to finally implement a completely recyclable cup.

“Ten years ago Starbucks promised that it would serve a totally recyclable paper cup, but it hasn’t delivered,” said Eoin Dubsky, campaigner at SumOfUs.

“Starbucks cups are pollution. 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away here each year, at great cost to the environment and the taxpayer. There’s huge public demand for a less wasteful cup – Starbucks needs to make good on its promise.”

SumOfUs are running the campaign jointly with US environmental organisation, and in partnership with several other organisations including Break Free From Plastics Coalition and Greenpeace USA.

The Independent’s own Cut the Cup Waste campaign is seeking solutions to the disposable coffee cup problem.

It was launched after the Environmental Audit Committee revealed seven million coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every day, and less than 1 per cent of these are recycled.

Globally, Starbucks alone gets through four billion coffee cups every year. The resulting waste adds to the wider problem of plastic pollution contaminating ecosystems around the world.

“The sheer amount of plastic trash created by Starbucks is out of control, and is ending up in waterways and other fragile ecosystems,” state SumOfUs in their petition, which was launched on Monday.

Peter Goodwin, director of the UK’s first coffee cup recycling scheme, Simply Cups, told The Independent the infrastructure exists across the country to recycle this waste.

However, he said at present there is no capacity to get cups out of the conventional waste stream and into one of the handful of facilities that can recycle them properly.

Only three such facilities currently exist in the UK that can separate the layer of plastic lining away from the paper coffee cups. This means the vast majority end up incinerated or on landfill.

As the capacity to recycle disposable cups is lacking, there is a need for alternatives that can be easily recycled via conventional recycling streams.

According to campaigners, the responsibility lies on the coffee chain to redesign its cups so they are compatible with existing recycling infrastructure, rather than redesigning the infrastructure itself.

In their report summarising their position, state: “Starbucks has disregarded evidence of promising new cup technologies that would make the recycling of cups within the normal paper waste stream easier.

“Although the company announced in 2016 that they were going to introduce a trial run of recyclable cups in the UK, there is no evidence they tested new cup technology in any store.”

Virginia Cleaveland, press secretary for, said: “The world is drowning in plastic trash, and Starbucks has built a global empire pushing this plastic pollution. Starbucks has a simple choice: continue to serve plastic-lined cups designed for the rubbish dump or make a fully recyclable cup.

“If Starbucks is serious about sustainability, it should serve a 100 per cent recyclable cup without a plastic lining and massively increase the use of reusable cups in stores.”

A Starbucks spokesperson told The Independent: “Our waste provider can recycle our cups and actively recycle those we can collect in store. We offer a £1 reusable cup, a 25p discount on drinks when you bring your own cup and are trialling a 5p charge on paper cups, measuring behaviour change.

“We are also working across the industry with the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group to find a solution to this issue.”

Since the Environmental Audit Committee’s report was released, several measures have been announced by major coffee chains to reduce disposable coffee cups consumption.

These have included discounts for customers brining in their own reusable cups, although Starbucks has reported less that 2 per cent of its customers currently take advantage of their discount.

The solution posed by the committee was a “latte levy” applied to each disposable cup sold to discourage customers from using them.

Such a levy is currently being trialled across 35 London Starbucks branches, where a 5p charge will be added whenever a customer requests a disposable cup.

As it stands, coffee chains only pay for 10 per cent of the cost of waste management from their stores.

The committee’s report called for more financial responsibility to be placed on these businesses – a call that has been echoed by environmental campaigners and recycling industry experts.

Starbucks had not replied to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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