Starbucks looks to overcome recycling barriers

Seattle Starbucks Coffee Co. is asking U.S. mayors and other municipal leaders to improve local commercial and residential recycling systems. Currently, recycling capabilities vary considerably from city to city and county to county, which presents a significant barrier for a business with more than 11,000 retail locations across the country, the chain said.

Starbucks said it is working with municipal governments, raw-materials suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage partners, recyclers, environmental NGOs and experts from the academic sector to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012.

“Scalability is critical,” said Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of environmental impact. “We can only achieve it if we take a holistic approach and join forces with our entire value chain. Mayors are uniquely positioned to mobilize stakeholders at a grassroots level and help drive solutions that will make our cups and other packaging more broadly recyclable in form and in practice.”

Currently, approximately 70% of Starbucks North American stores that control their own waste removal are recycling one or more items; however these are typically items behind the counter that are widely accepted for recycling, such as cardboard. Starbucks and other organizations now believe cardboard may be one path to scalability.

The company is participating in a pilot sponsored by Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery to test the recyclability of Starbucks paper cups with old corrugated cardboard, the most extensively recycled material in the United States.

In addition to participating in and initiating recycling tests, Starbucks is aligning its operations with municipalities that are launching progressive recycling programs, such as San Francisco, where the company implemented front-of-store recycling and composting in November 2009.

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