The coffee chain sends 8,000 non-recyclable cups to landfill every minute worldwide.
Occasionally a situation has to reach monstrous proportions before it gets the attention it merits. This is the idea behind activist group Stand.earth's latest campaign -- a gigantic monster made out of used Starbucks coffee cups that was seen prowling outside the Sheraton hotel in Seattle, where Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson was speaking at the 2017 GeekWire Summit earlier this week.
The coffee cup monster, whose name is Grounds, draws attention to the enormous problem of waste generated by Starbucks on a daily basis. Due to a thin plastic liner that's meant to insulate and hold liquids safely, the vast majority of recycling facilities are unable to separate the plastic from the paper, as it clogs machines. A few specialized recyclers in major urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., do have the capability to recycle these cups, but most do not.
GeekWire cites Stand.earth's U.S. campaign director Ross Hammond:
"If Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is serious about transforming his company into a tech leader, he must first solve his company’s biggest environmental liability: the 8,000+ cups that go into landfills every minute of every day. We hope Seattle’s tech leaders will join us in calling on Starbucks to stop serving 21st century coffee in a 20th century cup."
The company is well aware of the problem, with its former director of environmental affairs calling it "our no. 1 environmental liability." However, its experiments with fully recyclable cups have never resulted in a permanent solution. As I wrote earlier this year:
"Back in 2008, Starbucks pledged to develop a 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable cup by 2015, and to get one quarter of customers bringing reusable mugs, but little has changed. For five years, it held 'cup summits' and consulted experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to come up with a better cup, but then the company officially retreated in 2013, downgrading its goal for reusable mugs to a mere 5 percent. Two years later, a little over 1 percent of customers bring their own mugs."
In this era of advanced technology in so many other fields, it seems downright absurd that coffee chains have not yet figured out a way to make a less wasteful cup, but most likely it has not been a priority to date. Hopefully, protests involving gigantic cup monsters will add the necessary pressure. I mean, who can resist bloodshot eyes and a fake-sounding growl?
Add your voice to the campaign by signing this letter to Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO.