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Starbucks: Cup recycling logistics harder than they seem

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Starbucks released its global responsibility report and noted that its goal to make sure 100 percent of its cups are reusable and recyclable by 2015 has run into a few challenges.

Starbucks on Monday released its global responsibility report and noted that its goal to make sure 100 percent of its cups are reusable and recyclable by 2015 has run into a few challenges.

These responsibility and sustainability reports are increasingly being issued and can provide a few interesting insights on the intersection of energy, business and technology. Starbucks gave itself a "needs improvement" grade for its goals of developing a comprehensive recyclable cut by 2012 and implementing a front-of-store recycling effort by 2015.

What's the hang-up? Recycling requires a few moving parts. There are local facilities and figuring out a system that can apply in multiple markets. Starbucks said:

One of the significant challenges we’re facing is a wide variance in municipal recycling capabilities. This inconsistency makes it difficult for a company like ours, with more than 16,000 retail locations around the globe, to efficiently and effectively implement a recycling strategy. In order to achieve greater scalability and standardization, we set a goal in 2008 to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012. Ultimately, we want our paper and plastic cups – which in the U.S. account for approximately 95 percent of our in-store beverage packaging – to be universally recyclable in form and in practice.

In a nutshell, Starbucks said cup design is only one part of the issue. There are a few moving parts such as materials and design and facilities. For instance, can paper cups be recycled with corrugated cardboard?

Starbucks continues:

In 2009 approximately 70 percent (2,163) of our company-owned stores in North America that control their own waste collection recycled items made from one or more materials; however, these were typically back-of-store items that are widely accepted for recycling, such as cardboard boxes. Among remaining retail locations in North America, the majority were limited by operational impasses, such as minimal store space or lack of commercial recycling services.

It's an interesting discussion and shows how something as seemingly simple as recycling a cup can be a bit complicated.

Among other odds and ends in the report:

  • By the end of 2010, Starbucks aims to buy 50 percent of its energy in company-owned stores from renewable sources.
  • Company owned stores cut electricity use by 1.7 percent.
  • Water use in Starbucks stores fell 4.1 percent in 2009.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure