Friday, April 22, 2011

From lips to landfill 364 days a year. One day isn't enough, Starbucks

(so I got fired up this morning. this will be a column.)
            The night before Earth Day I learned that Starbucks has a yearly campaign to give a free fill-up of coffee or tea to anyone who brings in their own reusable mug on Earth Day.
            In the words of Shania Twain: that don’t impress me much.
            It sounds good, at first.  But a closer look and some critical thinking makes it obvious that Bucks isn’t as green as they claim, and in fact this is a great example of greenwashing, when a company tries to appear more eco-friendly than they really are.
            Let’s start with the paper cups, which are bleached.  Not good.  Why doesn’t Bucks use unbleached cups?  And if you think the paper cup is recyclable?  Think again.  Well, technically it is, since everything is recyclable, but right now?  Nope.  
            The cup goes from your lips to the landfill.  It’s got a plastic coating, making the recycling process much harder (and nixes its compostability.)  Supply creates demand though, and if Starbucks collected the cups—numbering around three billion a YEAR—recycling centers would respond. 
            And?  There are compostable paper cups in green coffee shops RIGHT NOW…but not in Starbucks.
            Coffee shops truly trying to be green will—first and foremost—promote reusable mugs and cups.  Do Starbucks employees ever ask ‘for here or to go?’ and serve ‘for here’ customers drinks in ceramic mugs?
            I’ve never seen that happen.  
            Bucks also touts on their website that they give 10 cents off customers drinks when they bring their own mug.  Even though ten cents is lame, how many people know about the ten cents off?  If Bucks really wants to make an environmental change, where are the signs reminding customers to bring their reusable mug or to get their drink in a ‘for here’ mug?         
            Admittedly, I rarely step inside a Starbucks, but I’ve never seen such a sign.
            Clearly, paper throwaway cups are the standard, which is totally backwards.  And if you do bring your own mug, baristas often forget that you did and put your drink in a paper cup anyway.  Or, they measure your Cinnamon Dolce in a paper cup before pouring into your reusable cup.  Both defeat the purpose. Palm to forehead.
            Back to Earth Day and the Starbucks free drink promo.  Seems like a way to get all warm and fuzzy, like you’re actually helping the Earth by driving to Bucks for a free cup of Joe.  It’s a good gimmick, but little more than that.  


  1. You raise some good points. I was in a Starbucks recently with a friend who requested her drink in a ceramic cup (we were staying at Starbucks) and at first they said they didn't even have those cups! But when pressed they were able to provide a washable cup. Interesting!

  2. interesting indeed! thank you for providing another example of what they aren't doing to be truly green. i checked out your blog--totally gonna make those larabar knock-offs!

  3. nice, let me know how they turn out!


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