Starbucks has once again ramped up its' efforts to pursue eco-friendly practices worldwide. With a long reputation for seeking out sustainable sourcing and innovation, the company has jumped to the front of a new cause. It recently announced a competition for eco-friendly inventors. In an effort to use a compostable cup in its' stores, Starbucks announced the NextGen Cup Initiative on March 20th. The Closed Loop Partners Center for the Circular Economy is also partnering up for the $1o million competition. The center is well-known for their focus on sustainable consumer goods and recycling initiatives.
Competing for a Compostable Cup
Starbucks disposable paper cups. Photo by Takahiro Sakamoto.
Starbucks has made prior efforts to make its' disposable goods environmentally responsible. Each store already uses paper cups made with 10% post-consumer recycled fiber. The coffee company has always pushed for recycling regulations and industry standards but feels efforts just aren't moving fast enough. Hence, the ambitious move of the $10 million dollar consortium to find a cup solution.
Consumers worldwide go through an estimated 600 billion paper and plastic cups per year. Although Starbucks' customers only account for 1% of that, it's still a count of 6 billion Starbucks wishes to change. The company also isn't happy leaving responsibility for the worldwide epidemic in someone else's hands. Starbucks intends to be the first to create the meaningful change needed in compostable cups and drinkware.
Starbucks is hoping scientists, chemists, inventors, entrepreneurs and out-of-the-box thinkers can come up with a compostable cup. The vision is a cup that disappears almost completely from the waste stream. Another option? A cup that can become a component of another product. Inventors who work on this answer to the compostable cup will receive grants from the company.
These competitors and collaborators have a major hurdle, however. The paper cup is not the issue itself, but rather the cups waterproof lining. This factor in the disposable paper cups is what makes an eco-friendly option a difficult goal to reach. However, with the NextGen Cup Challenge, the company hopes to prove it's not an impossible one.
Pursuing Change Through Change
Starbucks in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin.
Starbucks has already begun various efforts to try to change consumer behavior in its' stores. The company has taken a step further from offering reusable plastic to-go cups at the register and its' retail drinkware. The coffee giant began levying a 5 pence charge on each disposable cup used in its' London stores. This equals to about 7 cents in U.S. currency. The upcharge is a trial that will run for three months to see if consumer behavior changes. The company also has the weight of the British government behind them. A 25-pence charge for disposable cups used in the country is being considered at this time. However, regulations laws and requirements differ from country to country, creating a problem for Starbucks. It is difficult to change consumer behavior and implement uniform changes with varying international eco-friendly practices.
The company innovated its' Nitro Cold Brew Coffee in 2017 by introducing a sippable lid that eliminated the need for a plastic straw. This was a significant change for the company to cut down on non-compostable waste and plastic pollution.
Eco-Friendly Change On the Horizon
Starbucks is not the only fast-food chain dedicating resources to eco-friendly options. McDonald's also announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reimagine customer packaging. The company aims to increase the elements of its' packaging to be renewable, recycled or certified from the 50% it claims at this time. The burger chain also goals to have all of its' restaurants recycling by the year 2025.
Famous donut chain Dunkin' Donuts intends to rid its' signature polystyrene foam cups from all locations by 2020. That would reduce the presence of these cups in landfills by 1 billion.
Coca-Cola pledged to make its' bottles with an average of 50% recycled material by 2030. PepsiCo pledged its' packaging would be recoverable or recyclable by 2025, and Evian promised to make all plastic bottles from 100% recycled plastic by the same year.
The Natural Resources Defense Council recently put a price tag on the wasted opportunity for fast food package recycling. The council estimates that $11.4 billion dollars of packaging that could be recycled are instead being thrown away into landfills by companies yearly. The number proves that not only are compostable cups, recycling practices and cutting production of new plastic socially responsible but fiscally responsible as well.