It’s Now or Never Starbucks: Reduce Single Use Plastics and Recycle Your Cups!


Starbucks, once a bold leader in greening its packaging and source reduction policies, is now falling behind. On March 21, actor, filmmaker and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Adrian Grenier will present As You Sow’s shareholder resolution at Starbucks’ annual general meeting asking the company to take bold action to reduce its global plastic footprint. Competitor McDonald’s just promised to recycle packaging waste from all stores globally by 2025 while Starbucks continues to spin its wheels.

After nine years of waiting for Starbucks to meet its environmental goals, most of the 4 billion cups it generates each year are still going to the landfill, and an estimated 2 billion non-recyclable green plastic straws also meet this dark fate. While the company set goals to serve 25% of beverages in reusable cups, its reach is less than 2%. It also promised that all owned North American stores would have cup recycling by 2015, but only 60% have some form of front of house recycling, and Starbucks’ green straws continue to be swept into waterways, harming fish and marine animals. Straws are one of the most commonly found items at beach cleanups.

Direct competitors have begun to ban plastic straws, including large UK coffeehouse chain Costa Coffee. Seattle, the home of Starbucks’ corporate headquarters, will ban plastic straws in July, forcing the megachain to make major changes at home with no known plans in other parts of the United States or abroad.

Starbucks’ failed packaging sustainability commitments are now outdated; they apply only to North American and some European markets. Waste concerns are growing in Asia, which has more plastic waste dumped into its water and less collection and recycling infrastructure. Starbucks is pressing for major growth in Asia, opening one new store every 15 hours in China. McDonald’s recent pledge of global recycling goals, is stealing the opportunity for Starbucks to be a world leader in waste reduction.

This is a major issue, competitively and optically. Activists are circulating a petition that has more than 890,000 signatures asking the company to deal with its plastics waste—including plastic lids, straws, cutlery and the plastic coating on its paper cups. The pressure is obviously on—so why isn’t Starbucks taking action?

Scientists estimate that 4 to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans each year. This is a recognized global problem. European legislation is being developed to require all plastic packaging recyclable. UK grocer Iceland recently committed to phasing out all plastic packaging within five years. The Church of England is asking parishioners to give up single use plastic for Lent. This momentum does not favor companies, like Starbucks, that fail to address its waste.

Starbucks can either continue to fall behind and watch its competitors innovate or it can match pace to meet consumer and investor expectations. It’s time Starbucks’ actions match its image.