Monday, July 27, 2009

Starbucks and Recycling

Last week, I met up with a friend at a Starbucks in Nashville. We had a good time in the warm evening air, catching up and talking about changing the world. We specifically talked about how crummy the recycling opportunities are in Nashville, especially compared to Sweden, where we both grew up. In Sweden, recycling has basically become second nature. This is a combination of education, convenience, and culture. My parents even receive special green bags for compostable waste. (Btw, my spell checker doesn't recognize the word "compostable." That tells you something.) Heck, McDonald's restaurants have recycling stations in Sweden!

When the time came for us to get out of our seats and go our separate ways, we both looked at our empty plastic frappuccino cups and decided that they were very much recyclable. I was pretty sure this Starbucks did not offer recycling, but we decided to go inside and look. Nope. Just a hole for trash. So we decided to ask the barista.

"Where can we recycle these?"

The poor guy looked at his shoes and indicated that they don't offer recycling. He said they did at one point, but customers didn't properly sort their trash, so it didn't work. We gave him a little bit of a hard time and then ended up throwing our cups away. (Yes, I know. I should have taken them with me, but I was in a different city, so I gave in to convenience.)

I was both saddened and excited about this exchange. I was sad about the huge amounts of trash that Starbucks customers generate every day. I was excited to think about the possibilities for positive change. With over 16,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks has a great opportunity to make a huge difference as it relates to contributing to the trash piles.

I was tempted to boycott Starbucks until they start to provide recycling, but I thought I'd do some research first. When I got back home, I went to the Starbucks website and quickly found that they have an entire site dedicated to social responsibility, called Shared Planet. Very cool! I honed in on the "Environmental Stewardship" section. Here are their main bullets on this topic:
  • We've always believed in caring for the environment.

  • Toward 100% reusable or recyclable cups.

  • Toward 100% recycling in our stores.

  • Taking on climate change.

  • It takes all of us. (i.e. bring your own cup)

I read on and discovered that Starbucks has the following goal:

"100% of our cups will be reusable or recyclable. We will significantly reduce our environmental footprint through energy and water conservation, recycling and green construction. Starbucks ability to recycle varies based on the level of commercial and residential recycling services offered in our store communities. We are committed to making 100% of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015. In the meantime, there are two ways you can help to reduce the environmental impact of our cups: ask for your beverage in ceramic 'for here' or use a commuter mug 'to go.'"
This is pretty exciting. The only sad part here is that even if Starbucks wants to recycle everywhere, the communities in which they exist may not offer the available services. This is where local politics become important.

So, I won't boycott Starbucks. However, I will continue to ask about recycling and I will get better about taking recyclable cups back home where I can recycle them in the basement.

"You and Starbucks. It's bigger than coffee."

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