Starbucks announces trials for recyclable and compostable cups

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Last year, in an effort to address environmental concerns, Starbucks pledged to phase out plastic straws from all of its stores by 2020. Now the coffee chain has set its sights on cups.

The company shared its plans to start trials for several recyclable and compostable cups at its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday. The announcement comes after environmental activists protested outside of its 2017 and 2018 shareholders meetings with a “cup monster” made out of its used cups.

Starbucks has long struggled with how to address the roughly 7 billion cups it uses every year, the majority of which end up in landfills. The current cup design for hot beverages uses 10 percent recycled paper material with a plastic lining, which makes it difficult — but not impossible — to recycle.

For decades, the company has offered a 10 cent discount to customers who bring in cups. Despite the longevity of the program, few customers take advantage of the deal.

“We’re very excited with the progress that we’ve made with regard to innovation,” Rebecca Zimmer, global director of the environment, said in an interview. “We’re also understanding that the environmental issues and landscape is dynamic, and we need to continually review our strategies and assess our goals and our targets and be aggressive and ambitious in our goals and targets but also be realistic in what we can achieve.

Last year, the Seattle-based company joined with McDonald’s and Closed Loop Partners to back a competition to find more sustainable cup solutions. Out of nearly 500 global submissions, 12 winners were announced last month.

Some of the winners could soon find their designs in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and London.

“We did consider those locations, and locations around the world, which are best suited to have the infrastructure suited to handle the cups,” Zimmer said.

Part of the trial process involves assessing the suppliers’ capability to scale the cups and the municipalities’ waste management systems. For example, Zimmer said that some of the compostable cups require commercial composting facilities, which use higher temperatures to break down the materials.

The company also made a splash in July when it announced its intention to phase out plastic straws. In place of a straw, customers would enjoy their cold drinks through a new sippy cup lid. Since the initial announcement, the company has reduced the amount of virgin plastic in the lid by 9 percent, Zimmer said.

Starbucks also announced Wednesday a $100 million investment in a venture fund and plans to refresh its cafes.

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