The financial commitment is part of what Starbucks is calling its NextGen Cup Challenge. The announcement was made today, ahead of the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, which takes place tomorrow, March 21.
The company estimates that it distributes approximately 6 billion paper and plastic cups through its 28,000 locations annually, the vast majority of which are not recyclable due to plastic components that cannot be processed by individual municipalities.
Paradoxically, the company is now investing in solutions to an environmental sustainability problem that it has long recognized, yet willfully perpetuates to this day. For example, Starbucks proudly trumpets the release of its annual holiday cups, mentioning neither the resources used to produce them nor the fact that the vast majority of them are to end up in landfills.
According to today’s announcement, the $10 million commitment will involve a two-pronged approach to cup recycling solutions. Through the NextGen Cup Challenge and Closed Loop Partners, a consortium will award accelerator grants toward the development of more sustainable cup solutions while maintaining an open-source approach in order to encourage industry-wide participation and global solutions.
Additionally, the company plans to join with the National League of Cities’ Sustainable Cities institute to advocate for model legislation to make recycling access more widely available. In other words, the company plans to continue to encourage widespread adoption of recycling facilities and best practices among government organizations, and the citizens they represent, to make way for its existing garbage to become more recyclable.
Internally, Starbucks is initiating a trial of a new cup lining made partially of plant-based material for its paper cups. The trial is expected to take approximately six months as Starbucks evaluates whether the liner can meet safety and quality requirements when cups are filled with hot liquid. The company did not mention production cost as part of its evaluation process.
In the UK, Starbucks began charging a 5 pence (approximately 7 cents) tax on paper coffee cups, while it has also offered U.S. and UK customers small discounts for using reusable cups for the past 20 years. In its U.S. retail stores, the company also offers a $2 reusable hot cup, and it plans to introduce a reusable cold cup version later this year.
Of course, one very effective way for Starbucks to reduce paper and plastic cup waste would be to eliminate paper and plastic cups. But what would the shareholders think?