Starbucks’ 2011 Cup Summit

Yesterday Starbucks held its third annual Cup Summit, including a webinar where they invited the public to follow a panel discussion via live streaming.

The panel, consisting of John Mulcahy from paper company Georgia-Pacific, Joe Burke from NY recycler Action Carting Environmental Services,  Carol Patterson from Tim Hortons coffee chain (a leading chain in Canada), and sustainability consultant Peter Senge, sat down with Jim Hanna of Starbucks to discuss Starbucks’ ongoing efforts to get together with other coffee chains, cup producers, and recyclers to figure out how used paper cups can be made into new cups (or at least paper napkins).  This is not an insignificant effort, as Starbucks alone uses approximately 4 billion disposable paper cups for hot drinks, and polypropylene plastic cups for cold drinks, globally each year. Right now, there’s some progress with paper cups, but polypropylene, while having less of an impact on the environment over its life cycle than PETE, is rarely accepted for recycling across the U.S.

During the webinar, the panel took a few questions online from the public. One of the answers I found disappointing came from Jim Hanna in response to a query about why Starbucks credits clients who bring in their own travel mug no more than ten-cents per drink.  Hanna’s response was that they’ve been offering the ten-cent discount for a long time, and it has not been that effective in motivating customers.  He ventured that it would take a discount of about $1 to really get people to ‘bring their own’ in big numbers, but joked that at that rate Starbucks would find itself a non-profit. “We’re not going down that road,” he said, and moved quickly to the next question.

Through Facebook, I was able to watch people posting questions and thoughts on the webinar in real time.  One person suggested that if discounts were ineffective, asking folks to pony up extra money for a disposable might work.  And there’s something to that. Studies have shown that charging a fee works better than giving a discount. But Starbucks, like most retailers, would probably be reluctant to go that route voluntarily.

We’d like to see Starbucks lead the pack by doing something more to encourage BYOR (bring your own reusable) and in-store use of durable ware. Recycling that iconic paper (or plastic) cup is obviously better than trashing it, but the greater good would be better served by reducing the quantity of disposables dispensed overall.

Here’s the video of the panel discussion (about 40mins).  Be forewarned that the audio quality is not too good, but it does get better about half way through the video.

Video streaming by Ustream

And a link to the press release.

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