Back in 2004, the soon-to-be CEO of Starbucks, Jim Donald, announced a company plan to use 10 percent recycled material in its coffee cups. Environmentalists saw it as a good first step for the coffee chain.
In 2008, Starbucks set a goal of implementing recycling in all its locations by 2015. Once again, environmentalists applauded the chain for moving in the right direction.
Jump forward to the present day and all is not fine on the recycling front for Starbucks. The company's 2013 Global Responsibility Report makes clear that the coffee chain is not going to meet its 2015 goals to have recycling in all its stores. While the company reported that it has expanded the number of locations with front-of-store recycling by 67 percent over the past year, less than 40 percent of its locations recycle.
The problem, it appears, is not a lack of will on the part of the coffee chain but the complexity of recycling its cups. Recycling requires the paper in the cups to be separated from their plastic linings (there to prevent leaks). The technology exists to remove the plastic, but Starbucks does not collect enough cups to make it worthwhile for recyclers at this point.
According to a Bloomberg View piece written by Adam Minter, Starbucks ran a test program with its 170 stores in the Toronto area in 2010. The stores collected three tons of cups, but that pales in comparison to the 51.5 million tons of paper and cardboard collected in the U.S. that year.
To make recycling its cups economically feasible, it appears as though Starbucks will need to either own the recycling technology itself or find other like-minded companies who will add their cups to the coffee chains.
Should Starbucks continue to pursue its goal of front-of-store recycling in all its locations or should it abandon the effort?