Starbucks offers $10M for an idea to recycle or reuse its cups

The coffee chain recently announced a partnership with sustainability and environmental organizations geared toward helping come up to a solution it’s failed to achieve thus far.

Though this week’s “Crystal Ball” Frappuccino from Starbucks comes in an average plastic cup, the company is promising different containers will come.

On Monday, the coffee chain announced that it would increase its initiative to make its cups reusable or recyclable—and it’s pledging $10 million for the next big idea to help it do just that.

In the past, Starbucks has promised a similar sustainability effort, but has fallen short so far.

Fast Company reported:

… Starbucks promised that it would make 100% of its cups reusable or recyclable by 2015. But today, most of its paper cups are still going to landfills. A second goal, to serve 25% of its drinks in reusable containers by 2015, was quietly lowered to 5% in 2011. It didn’t reach even that goal: only 1.4% of drinks are served in reusable containers now. The company also uses millions of Starbucks-branded green plastic straws.

On Monday, Starbucks wrote in a press release:

“Our store partners proudly pour sustainably sourced coffee in our 28,000 locations around the world, but everyone wants to take our ability to serve it sustainably to the next level,” said Colleen Chapman, vice president of Starbucks global social impact overseeing sustainability. “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition.”

Here’s how Starbucks explained its partnership with Closed Loop Partners and the Center for the Circular Economy to create the NextGen Cup Challenge:

… This is the first step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that would allow cups around the world to be diverted from landfills and composted or given a second life as another cup, napkin or even a chair – anything that can use recycled material.

Through the NextGen Cup Challenge, the consortium will award accelerator grants to entrepreneurs working on ideas that could lead to the development of more sustainable cup solutions and, invite industry participation and partnership on the way to identifying a global solution.

“Through this partnership, the Challenge will enable leading innovators and entrepreneurs with financial, technical, and expert resources to fast-track global solutions, help get those solutions to shelf, through the recovery system and back into the supply chain” said Rob Kaplan, managing director of Closed Loop Partners.

The need to innovate is recognized industry-wide and by leading nonprofits – and consortium members – including World Wildlife Fund and its Cascading Materials Vision.

“Through this collaboration, Starbucks and the Closed Loop Partners are undertaking complex issues in the sourcing and recovery of materials, looking to protect the environment and future wealth of our natural resources. World Wildlife Fund is excited to support and participate in comprehensive solutions that help tackle the world’s greatest challenges.” said Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at World Wildlife Fund.

Cut through the corporate speak, and Starbucks is offering $10 million to entrepreneurs to come up with a way to decrease waste from the coffee-chain’s cups—along with other paper and plastic cups that make up the 600 billion distributed around the world each year.

The problem is only growing, environmentally-speaking—but figuring out a sustainable solution isn’t as easy as Starbucks’ press release makes it out to be.

Fast Company reported:

When straws are littered, or blow out of trash cans and into drains, they can become part of the eight million tons of plastic trash flowing into oceans each year. A straw might end up skewering a penguin’s stomach, or breaking up into pieces of microplastic that a fish might eat, and later, a person might consume when eating the fish. (Scientists estimate that the amount of ocean plastic will triple between 2015 and 2025.) The nonprofit behind the shareholder resolution, As You Sow, estimates that Starbucks used 2 billion plastic straws each year.

Cups are an even bigger challenge. The nonprofit cites an estimate that Starbucks uses around 4 billion cups annually; a Starbucks release pegs the number even higher, at 6 billion. After setting its goal in 2008 to move to cup recycling, the company pushed to find better cup designs, but faced challenges. It does now have a paper cup that can be recycled and others that can be composted–but the bigger problem is that few cities have the right infrastructure to process either kind.

Monday’s announcement is in addition to Starbucks recycling efforts in cities such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. and New York.

GeekWire reported:

Starbucks cups have a plastic coating on the inside, which allows them to hold up under the heat from coffee, but that makes them unable to be recycled in some areas. Starbucks cups are recyclable in several large markets, including Seattle, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Starbucks is calling on cities to develop consistent recycling and compost policies to ensure that cups can be more widely recycled.

Starbucks said it is in the middle of a six-month trial of a new cup liner made partially from plant-based materials for its paper cups. Starbucks said this is the 13th internal test of this type in just the last year.

Along with answering continued calls for it to cut down on consumer waste, Starbucks is hoping this announcement will net it some positive PR—similar to when Dunkin’ Donuts made headlines and garnered positive buzz after promising to get rid of its Styrofoam cups by 2020.

What do you think of Starbucks’ announcement, PR Daily readers?

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