The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
July 17, 2012

Starbucks Trash: Behind the Scenes

Last week, I received an email from a new Starbucks employee who was shocked by the amount of waste she sees at the store everyday. Many of us do our individual part by bringing our reusable mugs for coffee, but it turns out that, according to this employee (who wants to remain anonymous to keep her job), the waste goes much deeper. I asked if I could share her rant here with you all. I’m not sure how to get Starbucks to clean up its act, but maybe you guys have some suggestions.

Jul 12 (5 days ago)

To: Beth Terry
From: [name withheld]


I recently started working at Starbucks, which sells itself as an eco-friendly, green company to the general public. Since I began work there, I have been disgusted every day with the amount of waste, not only of cups, lids, straws, and hot drink sleeves, but also by the packaging of many things that are used in the store every day.  Many things which we sell come  packaged individually wrapped, in a box of five (like our VIA drinks, which are meant to be used as a shake-in flavor for your basic plastic water bottle). That box of five though, is then packed with maybe…7 other boxes of five in a cardboard box (which wouldn’t be so bad if we even attempted to recycle that). That cardboard box is then packed into another cardboard box which contains maybe 9 more like it. By the time this VIA drink reaches you (only to be poured into a plastic water bottle) it has been individually wrapped and packaged into THREE separate boxes like a set of nesting dolls.

Another thing I want to bring to the attention of the public is the fact that while, yes, our cups are recyclable, the percentage of cups that actually get recycled is disgustingly low. While one may assume that anyone can and will take their cup with them and choose to recycle it at another location, how about the large amount of cups that are thrown out right in our own store? Through any given day we will have thousands upon thousands of cups used and thrown out IN-STORE across the country. Does Starbucks offer any sort of on-site recycling though? Not to my knowledge, not [in my state].

Then you might consider how many cups go to waste in the store before they even meet a customers mouth. Any time a new barista is being trained, they will go through countless cups (and even drinks-how much milk can we pour down the drain before we stop to think about the starving people around the world) to learn the new drinks. Any time a drink is made, you can bet that a new cup is being used to measure out the ingredients (those lines on the sides of the cups aren’t there for looks) and any time a drink is mis-made, the whole thing is  tossed, including the cup. Any time something splashes up on a stack of cups (like mocha syrup or coffee)the entire stack is tossed out, and the same goes for lids.

Another waste of cups, and this one ESPECIALLY gets me, is when a customer believes that they ARE being green, using a reusable cup, and they are still wasting the disposable cup. The fact is, if you order it through the drive through, they are going to make the drink LONG before your precious plastic tumbler gets to the barista, they simply take your cup and throw the drink into it from the plastic cup it was made in, and toss that.  If you come inside with your reusable cup, you might have a better chance of being green, but still probably not. Only if you order a tea or a coffee with this stop your barista from using the disposable cups to measure out the ingredients for your drink. The fact is, even if they wanted to, only half of the starbucks produced reusable cups they market as “green” will even FIT under the espresso spout.

This list only skims the surface of waste that starbucks creates each day.  My goal in writing this to you is to get the picture across to a much larger pool of people how un-green the company is. I hope that if we draw enough attention to it, then maybe we can get the company to install recycling bins at each store to at least REDUCE the amount of waste that created each day. A larger response from the public concerning the huge amount of waste created is definitely something that the Starbucks company will at least want to APPEAR to care about, and I am confident that we would see a change.

Thank you for your time and your commitment to educating people about our earths needs.

[Starbucks employee]

One of my pet peeves with Starbucks is that they don’t even offer durable cups for people who are drinking their coffee in the store. Other cafes do. Peet’s, for example, has reusable mugs for patrons who ask for them. And if the reusable mugs that Starbucks sells won’t even fit under the espresso spout, then Starbucks is obviously not even trying to reduce disposable cup waste.

Here’s what Starbucks says about its waste reduction efforts ( “Customers enjoying their beverage in-store can also request that it be served in a ceramic mug where available.” I haven’t seen ceramic mugs at Starbucks (besides those offered for sale.) Have you?

Here’s a link to write the company if you feel inspired:

What do you think is the best way to get their attention?  (Boycotting won’t help if you are not a Starbucks customer in the first place.)

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118 Comments on "Starbucks Trash: Behind the Scenes"

10 months 13 days ago

I ride my bike for transportation and for the last few weeks I have watched the Starbucks plastic cups accumulate at the local bus stop 15 feet from the Starbucks. The bus stop does not have a trash can for some reason. The plastic cups have been there since I have noticed them 3 weeks ago and have accumulated to the point of roughly 23 (I counted them because I finally stopped and picked them all up)…

Anyways, I went in the store to throw them away and I kindly asked the “barista” if as a courtesy they could have an employee spend 3 minutes every few days and pick up the cups. She rudely cut me off and in a loud voice stated “ITS NOT STARBUCKS RESPONSIBILITY SIR!”. I kindly replied to her that Starbucks is the root cause of the trash and regardless its all of our problem as human beings living in a shared environment, it should even have to be defensive, I was not trying to point fingers. Her response was “CALL THE CITY”. I asked why couldnt an employee while cleaning tables outside walk 20 steps with a bag and pick it up? It doesnt matter if its “not Starbucks problem”, we live in a shared environment and its not that difficult to spend 5 minutes every few days to clean it up.

She just kept repeating call the city over and over again.

I understand that technically it isnt Starbucks responsibility because it isnt on their property but they are the root cause and the trash is generated from that Starbucks. I mean, if the manager had any sense, even as a thoughtful person who cares about plastic polluting our environment, he could have one of his employees take care of it once in a while. It doesnt matter who is “responsible”, it came from your store so be a good soul and CLEAN IT UP.

1 year 8 months ago

Thanks for sharing! I finally got my mother to buy an insulated stainless steel bottle for her morning coffee. When I showed her pictures and articles of trash from bins, beaches, etc. and told her that she throws away over 300 styrofoam cups a year and the fact that its toxic too seemed to resound with her, finally. We all need to encourage our friends and family to think about their waste.

1 year 9 months ago

Wow that is disgusting. I am glad I do not usually drink coffee now.

2 years 28 days ago

I just did my first year of college in the UK, and almost all Starbucks there have reusable ceramic mugs as the automatic for people not getting it to-go.  When I first saw this I was utterly amazed, but coming back to the US it’s disappointing.  They even have cute little espresso cups.  The one place I was unable to get a real mug was near Oxford Circus in London, one of the most busy tourist spots (also, I think it was a new location, so maybe they’ve changed).  Obviously, this doesn’t cut down the waste behind the scenes, but it certainly saves a lot of paper cups and plastic lids!

2 years 2 months ago

I always order mine in a “here” cup. you just ask for them. They have them.

2 years 2 months ago

@dbboley Some Starbucks do but not all.  Last summer when I was in New York City, I checked in several different Starbucks, and none of them had “for here” cups.

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2 years 4 months ago

nice article, thanks for sharing

2 years 4 months ago

Thanks for share.There is so much to know about energy, our environment, space, color and furnishing.

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2 years 6 months ago

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me.

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2 years 6 months ago

I cannot WAIT to read more of this. I mean, you just know so much about this. So much of it Ive never even thought of. You sure did put a new twist on something that Ive heard so much about.

2 years 7 months ago

Today i read this post and i really happy after to read this post because it is very great tips for me. Such a great work in this post………

2 years 8 months ago

While I like the idea that Starbucks has paper cups, whats sad is the plastic cold drink cups they use. I don’t know why Starbucks and some other big name fast food stores don;t stop this use of plastic cups and stick with the paper.

2 years 9 months ago

I live in Virginia.   The local Starbucks has ‘for here’ mugs and glasses available upon request, and has the mugs displayed with a sign that says “ask for a for here mug.” This summer, they put in a trashcan with both a recyclable and non recyclable option, with what materials are recyclable clearly illustrated on the lid.  While this is only one can, and only inside the store, I know that the recycled side is emptied much more often than the waste side.   Which is better than nothing.  I think it also makes us consumers more aware of how much we doom to the landfill that could be recycled instead.  

2 years 9 months ago

Try a KeepCup.  These are reusable cups that are “Barista Standard.” They should fit under any Starbucks machine.

2 years 9 months ago

 @TravisSelf I’m sure they would reduce a lot of waste.  It’s just too bad they are made from plastic.  And the website doesn’t even say what kind of plastic.  Plastics contain many other additives besides BPA. 

2 years 9 months ago

 @BethTerry Hi Beth! According to the box it came in, it is made from polypropylene (which it goes onto describe as the safe food grade plastic). Is that true based on your research, or is that just part of the marketing sizzle?

2 years 9 months ago

Starbucks will only use a durable cup IF IT IS ONE THEY HAVE SOLD.  Don’t expect to get the ceramic cup your daughter made filled there.

2 years 9 months ago

Actually, I’ve never had a problem getting any mug filled that I present them with.  The problem is that they don’t provide “for here” mugs at every store.  I was just in NYC last weekend and visited 3 different Starbucks stores in the Hells Kitchen area, and not a single one of them had “for here” mugs, no matter what they might claim on their site.  The other problem is that some of the stores will fill a disposable cup first and then dump that into your reusable mug.  But I’ve never had them refuse to fill a reusable mug that they didn’t sell.

2 years 9 months ago

Thank you Beth, it was an interesting (but depressing) post.
I believe in recycling (although I also think it doesn’t completely make up for using so much plastics in the first place).
I believe the companies like Starbucks or McDonalds will actually do it only if it makes economical sense to them (or at least if it doesn’t cost them too much money)
I think it works only for a few companies (Coca-Cola, Danone…)
For the food containers for example, a good recycling system requires:
– making containers that are easily recyclable in the first place 
– separate bins (for at least paper & plastics, possibly more)
– having people use those bins properly
– collecting and conveying those to plants where they can be recycled properly
– subsidizing those recycling plants, and in return getting recycled raw materials to make new containers
And I think it is difficult to meet all those together.
The waste collection system varies by country (and sometimes even by city in those countries). The Starbucks stores I went to Japan had separate bins for plastics, paper, compost, food&beverage waste. But in some cities, paper & plastic wastes are collected together.
Does that mean that Starbucks should have their own waste collection trucks? That would be way too expensive.
And it is (mostly?) about how environmentally responsible people are in the country you live in. In Hong Kong, I am shocked to see how poorly people sort their trash (if at all). I don’t think putting the right bins and signs in stores will change much if you don’t educate people first.
In the end, I think it is part Starbuck’s fault, but also part ours.

2 years 9 months ago

I usually avoid Starbucks, but I know that, at least in Switzerland and Germany, they serve hot beverages in ceramic cups unless you order for take away.

2 years 9 months ago

Surely having recycled glass measuring jugs for making the drinks would make sense? It is often green in colour too.. perfect for Starbucks’ branding.
That way they could ensure that it was freshly washed for each coffee, not contaminated, and then pour the drink into customers’ reusable cups whatever their size.
And for training, they can be used again and again and again.
Or is that just too simple?

2 years 9 months ago

I used to work next door to a Starbucks and would pop in for an iced tea every now and then. At that time (2009), they offered refills on the tea for around .50cents and ALWAYS used the original cup. Then one day, I presented the cup for refill and they said they’d have to toss it and use a new one. I was pretty shocked and asked why and they said it would be a health code violations otherwise. Seriously?! Now that I’m plastic-aware, I avoid Starbucks big time. However, a person who tries to carry along reusable everything, I recently had a run in at Whole Foods. I tend to buy lots of things in bulk and bring my own cloth bags and was told I would not be permitted to do so anymore because of the health code. This pisses me off to no end. I keep those bags very clean (duh, I’m eating out of them).  

2 years 9 months ago

Seriously? In what state are you located, if you feel comfortable sharing? Our Whole Foods (we shop at the Interbay Seattle location) has cloth bags that they sell there for you to use with the produce and bulk food items. I use them all the time, I never use plastic anymore. I feel like the person who told you this must be one of those employees who thinks they know the health code but actually doesn’t. I’ve heard enough stuff like this that I’m going to research the health code for Washington. Oh hey! interbaywfm , do you guys know anything about this kind of policy? 

2 years 9 months ago

I think that it’s important for Starbucks to know that people are watching. I have an espresso machine at home which I use religiously but a few months ago it started acting up. While it was being repaired, I stopped at my local Starbucks every morning for my latte (which, living in Seattle, means it is a truly local business for me). After the first few days something occurred to me – I’m betting that Starbucks doesn’t use organic (non-rBst) milk. Sure enough, I checked the website, and their milk is not something I would normally use at home or feed to my family. When I left a note on their website over six weeks ago, I have yet to receive a response. When I asked an employee, she shrugged her shoulders and said she figured it was way too expensive.  Starbucks has shown themselves to be responsive to customer pressure, so I say we bring it on and help educate them that their customers want a truly green company!

2 years 10 months ago

“There’s no reason starbucks can’t create reusable measuring cups for hot drinks.  Though I would place bets that if they did so they’d be made of plastic, just from a breakage standpoint.”
The Second Cup, a Canadian franchise, uses stainless steel measuring cups that they rinse. Easy peasy!
I’ve only been to a Starbucks a few times. I’ve been boycotting them since I found out that they  are the official coffee shop of Guantanamo Bay. When I got out a megaphone in Ottawa as part of the Campaign to Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, and read out the allegations, well, they kinda barred me…