As part of Starbucks Coffee Company’s efforts to reduce waste from single-use cups and other packaging, the company convened its second cup summit yesterday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The two-day symposium brings municipalities, raw material suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage businesses, recyclers, NGOs, and academic experts together to drive the development of solutions that will make both paper and plastic cups more broadly recyclable.
Starbucks goal is to ensure that 100 percent of its cups are reusable or recyclable by 2015. The company considers its cups “recyclable” in communities only where they are being collected and accepted into commercial and residential recycling systems. One of the major challenges Starbucks currently faces is a variance in local recycling capabilities. With more than 16,000 retail locations around the globe, the company views scalability as a critical factor.
“We know we can’t solve this problem simply by purchasing cups that are labeled ‘recyclable’ or ‘compostable,’” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of environmental impact. “We have to ensure our customers actually have access to recycling services at their homes, at work, and in our stores. We’ll only be successful if the various businesses and organizations that touch this issue are aligned and equally motivated to take action.”
Hanna answered the public’s questions about recycling during a live online conversation yesterday at 4 p.m. EDT.
“This is a complex problem that will not be solved overnight; however, initiatives like Starbucks cup summit are moving the dialogue in the right direction,” says Peter Senge, senior lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL). “The company’s holistic approach has the potential to make a significant impact on the entire foodservice industry.”
Starbucks initially engaged MIT and SoL in 2008 to explore systems thinking, a problem-solving approach that analyzes how the various segments of a structure – in this case, cup manufacturers, recyclers, municipalities, and other stakeholders – are interconnected.
MIT also played an important role in Starbucks 2009 cup summit, which revealed a fundamental need to improve recycling infrastructures while continuing to explore materials and design. The result has been enhanced collaboration and meaningful action.
In the past year, Starbucks has introduced front-of-store recycling in Toronto, Canada, where its cups are recyclable, and in San Francisco, where its cups are both recyclable and compostable. Additionally, Starbucks plans to introduce front-of-store recycling in Seattle this summer, and is discussing testing and implementation plans with other communities, including Denver, Chicago, and Boston.
“Boston continues to be on the leading edge of sustainability, and we’re always looking for innovative ways and creative partnerships to meet our ambitious agenda,” says Jim Hunt, Boston's chief of environment and energy. “We’re pleased to be working with Starbucks as they bring leading minds together to develop new ways to green their supply chain. This collaborative, solution-oriented approach is good for business and good for our planet."
In addition to working directly with municipalities and other stakeholders, Starbucks is harnessing the creativity of environmentally conscious individuals to generate new ideas. The company has joined forces with the betacup challenge, a project launched by social entrepreneur Toby Daniels and mass collaboration specialists Colaboratorie Mutopo, as the lead sponsor of an online contest that engages creative thinkers in trying to solve the disposable cup waste problem. The contest runs through June 15 and can be accessed via thebetacup.com .
Starbucks also encourages its customers to help reduce cup waste by opting for reusable alternatives. Last week the company launched a global marketing campaign to increase tumbler use, driving customers to starbucks.com/thebigpicture  to make the tumbler pledge.
In 2009 Starbucks served more than 26 million beverages in reusable cups in its company-owned stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This simple shift in behavior kept nearly 1.2 million pounds of paper from ending up in landfills.
Further information about Starbucks recent efforts to reduce cup waste and other environmental impacts can be found in the company’s ninth annual Global Responsibility Report, which launched earlier this month. To access the report, visit starbucks.com/responsibility2009 .