Right now, Starbucks is in a lot of hot water for the amount of plastic pollution they generate. Their paper cups are lined with plastic, making them hard to recycle and impossible to compost. This morning on my way to work, I found one squished in the middle of the street. That is the problem with single-use packaging, once it has been used, it has no value and as such, people have no incentive other than their own conscience to take care of it. In 2008, Starbucks put forth a goal of increasing the percentage of reusable cups used to 25% by 2015 (source). By 2011, they had only hit 1.9%, which equated to 34.1 million cups saved….which, for those willing to do some math, means that the other 98.1% would represent 2.8 BILLION single use cups were created and disposed of into landfills, and sadly, our waterways. In 2011, their goal for 2015 was reduced to 5%. It is now 2018 and they are only at 1.4% per Fast Company, which would mean that the number of reusable containers used has gone down since 2011. Yikes.
Today, Starbucks has a page dedicated to recycling and reducing on their website. When I read it, it feels to me like they are not taking enough ownership of the problem and are putting the blame on consumers:
“Reusable cups are also an important component of our overall waste reduction strategy. Since 1985 we’ve rewarded our customers with a discount when they bring in personal tumblers. In 2013 we launched a $2 reusable cup in the U.S. and Canada, and a £1cup in the United Kingdom. Despite these efforts, we have learned that widespread behavior change is unlikely to be driven by one company alone. We will continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste but ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.”
Starbucks helped to create the coffee-to-go model that customers have grown used to and as such, they have a responsibility to help reprogram consumer behavior. The last time I was in a Starbucks, I did not see anything posted to educate consumers about the discount that you can receive if you bring your own container. I have never had a social media marketing campaign targeted to me, a big coffee drinker, to suggest that I bring my own cup to Starbucks the next time I go. The only thing that I ever see from them is an advertisement to try their latest coffee creation. So when Starbucks implies that it is our fault that they have missed their sustainability goals, I am going to call bullshit because they are expert marketers and if they made waste reduction their number one marketing message in 2018, they would change consumer behavior and could help reshape the entire to-go the industry. Other large coffee chains would be forced to follow suit or fear losing market share to Starbucks. I believe in their ability to change how we consume coffee and as such, I would like to help them write a press release about the changes that I think they should make to become the industry-leaders in sustainable coffee shops. Here is the press release that I wish they would release:
Press Release: Starbucks Commits to Reducing Plastic Waste by 2020
Seattle (April 11, 2018): Starbucks Corporation (Nasdaq: SBUX) is getting aggressive about plastic pollution. The long-time leader in the coffee-to-go space with more than 25,000 stores worldwide is launching several concurrent sustainability programs to ensure that by 2020, that 25% of consumers bring their own cup, helping to change consumer behavior and saving over 1 billion disposable cups each year.
For the rest of 2018, Starbucks is committing to a multi-channel marketing campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of bringing their own cup. In addition to email, social media and print campaigns, Starbucks will use the prime in-store advertising space normally allocated to their new beverages to educate consumers about the benefits of bringing their own cup. To make it easy for consumers to switch to a reusable container, Starbucks will sell reusable commuter mugs at all of its stores; anyone who purchases a reusable mug will get a free beverage of their choice on the day of the purchase. As always, anyone bringing a reusable mug in will get ten cents off their beverage. Starbucks Rewards members who bring their own cup ten times will get an additional cup of coffee for free. The Starbucks Rewards member who brings in their cup the most times in 2018 will win a free coffee each week for a year.
All Starbucks employees will be given reusable coffee mugs and required to use them at all times while at work to set an example for their customers. Starbucks employees will be incentivized to educate their customers about the benefits of bringing their own cup. Employees from the top ten stores globally who see the largest percentage increase in reusable cups in 2018 will receive bonuses for their efforts and one employee from each store will be flown to Starbucks Corporate Offices in Seattle to share their lessons learned and help brainstorm ways to better educate the rest of their customers about switching to reusable.
By 2019, Starbucks will equip all of their stores with reusable cups, spoons and straws for anyone who wants to enjoy their beverage on-premise. Customers will always be asked by their barista before receiving a disposable to-go cup. While more than 80% of customers buy their coffee to go, it is anticipated that offering reusable cups in-store will significantly reduce the amount of single-use cups used by customers.
By 2020, Starbucks will launch a Starbucks Cup Club membership for Starbucks Rewards members to enable Starbucks Cup Club members to borrow a reusable cup if they forgot their own and drop it off at any retail location when they are ready to return it. It will cost $10 a year or $100 for a lifetime membership. The cups will be made from double-walled stainless steel in partnership with MiiR, a certified B corp based in Seattle.
By 2020, Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws and will offer paper straws upon request. Starbucks to-go products will be made from recyclable or compostable, plant-based materials for customers who are not interested in joining the Cup Club or bringing their own container.
If Starbucks adopted some of these strategies, real change could occur and Starbucks could continue to secure their place as the market leader and innovator in coffee. At a bare minimum, increasing the discount for consumers to bring their own cup and doing a marketing campaign to promote those cost savings would be huge. People love a good bargain and ten cents off for bringing your own cup just isn’t going to cut it. Philz Coffee offers a large coffee for the price of a small if you bring your own mug, a $1 savings for an extra 8oz of coffee. Starbucks could do the same since the extra cost in raw materials to them for making 8 oz vs 16 oz of coffee is quite low.
Do you have things that you’d like to see Starbucks change? Please add comments to my post! Also, please show your support sign this petition to ask Starbucks to act now to eliminate plastic use.