It’s hard to imagine a world without Starbucks. The coffee giant serves almost six million customers a day or 2,190,000,000 beverages a year. That’s enough to give every American seven grande cappucinos (though I’m sure there are quite a few people who drink about that amount daily). There’s no denying the power and influence Starbucks has over not only the United States, but the whole world.
But as a certain webslinger always says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
To its credit, Starbucks seems to genuinely care about the environment. The company’s Shared Planet program is designed to make its stores more sustainable, promote ethical coffee trading and farming, and give back to the community. And though some may find it surprising, Shared Planet is actually making a difference. Check out their 2008 global responsibility report, which provides detailed and honest information about Starbucks’ environmental performance last year.
Of course, with its attractive earthy tones and acoustic-guitar-scored promotional videos, Shared Planet also functions as a big, glossy pile of PR, but can you blame Starbucks for trying to appeal to such an easily-targeted demographic? Actually, you can. Starbucks has a somewhat sordid history of greenwashing, and while Shared Planet is a praiseworthy new step, let’s not forget the propaganda that Starbucks has pushed and continues to push on its customers. In particular, I’m referring to a piece of misinformation the company has yet to publicly clarify, namely that no matter what it says on the packaging, Starbucks’ cups are not recyclable.
This may seem like nitpicking, but think about all the coffee cups thrown out daily (hint: remember the six million customers). The fact that such a basic part of such a giant business isn’t environmentally functional is, frankly, terrifying. Starbucks has recently hosted a summit addressing the issue, and in an interview with TriplePundit, Jim Hanna—the corporation’s Director of Environmental Impact—promised recyclable cups by 2015.
But really? 2015? What about the billions of cups filling the world’s trash heaps in the next six years? Why does it need to take that long to phase out paper cups? Surely Starbucks can do better.
And surely, so can we. Here’s the part where I would tell you that instead of waiting for Starbucks to clean up its act, we need to take the cup issue into our own hands, literally. I would suggest bringing ceramic, plastic, metal, or glass mugs and bottles to your local Starbucks and showing them that you care about the Earth more than two seconds of convenience. Unfortunately, I can’t say that would work: many Starbucks locations do not accept reusable cups.
So what’s an Earth-conscious caffeine addict to do? Well, you could get your fix from Peet’s, which has offered only biodegradable cups since 2007. You could try making coffee at home, which is cheaper, easier, faster, and less stressful than going out to get it. Or maybe you could always stop drinking coffee all together!
Matt Lurie takes his black and guilt-free. He can be reached here.