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.)

119 Responses to “Starbucks Trash: Behind the Scenes”

  1. blazeaglory says:

    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.

  2. EcoM8s says:

    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.

  3. Sarah says:

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

  4. Natalie says:

    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!

  5. dbboley says:

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

    • BethTerry says:

      @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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  11. DoesLesmeanMore says:

    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.

  12. Marguerite says:

    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.  

  13. TravisSelf says:

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

    • BethTerry says:

       @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. 

      • TravisSelf says:

         @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?

  14. Ann says:

    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.

    • BethTerry says:

      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.

  15. Joji says:

    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.

  16. Kate says:

    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.

  17. Divebunnie says:

    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?

  18. Maureen says:

    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).  

    • Saltwater says:

      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? 

  19. kario says:

    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!

  20. Tracey TieF says:

    “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…

  21. awakeatheart says:

    My hub worked for starbucks for 3 years.  That meant I was at the store a lot, so I got to learn quite a bit about their practices.  The “measuring cup” is one thing that does annoy me, though it’s mostly new people who tend to use them.  To say that there’s no other way to do it is just completely false.  Cold drinks with multiple parts are measured in a reusable cup that is then quick-washed and used again.  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 thing that bothered me the most from our local store was that there was NO recycling.  This is something that’s currently starting to be implemented front of house on a store by store basis in starbucks around our area (and is entirely based on that local store being able to secure local recycling pickup services), but it doesn’t mean it’s being implemented behind the counter.  The sheer amount of plastic milk jugs used and tossed daily was just shocking to me.

  22. Lisa says:

    I read somewhere that Jim Hanna, Sustainability Director at Starbucks, told _The Guardian_ that climate change is threatening the supply chain of arabica coffee beans in the next 10, 20, 30 years.  People could use this as even more argument that Starbucks should act more sustainably in its own practices–it makes good business sense.

  23. JenHarper says:

    I have had very positive experiences at my local Starbucks.  All the Starbucks that I’ve visited in Maryland and Kentucky offer “For Here” mugs, you just have to know to ask.  I use them whenever I forget my own mug.  I have also watched them fill my personal cup and they don’t use a paper cup, except for one barista who was new.  I mentioned it to the manager (a friend) and she said she’d bring the new girl up to speed.   They don’t get absolution for all the junk and waste that they and the customers produce, but, I can, with minimal effort, get my drink without involving any disposable cups.

  24. Emile says:

    This might sound random, but…I think this just shows how front-line employees need to be able to have more of a say in company policy.  For instance, my company uses A TON of paper; much of it seems unnecessary.  But I have no input whatsoever into how the place is run.

  25. five5seed says:

    Great post, Beth! I visit Starbucks every week just because it’s perfectly between me and my circle of friends who like to meet and knit on Sunday mornings. I always bring my own cup, but cringe whenever the baristas walk by with bags of trash – which seems to happen every hour or so.
    I was inspired by this post to start a social media flash mob on Twitter and Facebook. Hope people here will join in!

  26. Hteblav says:

    I’m in the UK & have been to various Starbucks in London & Manchester. I’m always automatically given a ceramic mug when I drink inside as is everyone else.

  27. Wow. Just wow. This is heartbreaking but important to know. Thank you to the brave barista who wrote this…
    Love and light,

  28. conniehealth says:

    I wrote on to them and this is the response that I got back.  Starbucks response to me: 
    Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.
    Starbucks white paper cups, used for hot beverages, are made of paper fiber and the industry standard liner (low-density polyethylene plastic). The paper provides the rigidity for the cup, while the plastic layer keeps the paper layer intact by protecting it from the hot beverage. This plastic layer also makes the hot beverage cups unrecyclable in most paper recycling systems. We are continually evaluating alternatives to the current plastic coating, and are currently conducting life cycle assessments for bio-based plastics.
    Other actions taken by Starbucks to reduce the environmental impacts of our disposable cups include:
    Working to eliminate most double-cupping by utilizing corrugated hot beverage sleeves made of 60 percent post-consumer recycled fiber.Offering customers a $0.10 discount when they use their own reusable cups. Customers in the U.S. and Canada took advantage of this offer more than 17 million times in fiscal 2006, keeping 674,000 pounds of paper from going to the landfill.Providing “for here” mugs for customers who choose to enjoy their beverages in-store. Customers enjoying their beverage in-store can also request that it be served in a ceramic mug where available.
    For more information, please visit us online at

  29. AfricaInside says:

    WOW. I cant believe that Starbucks does not even bother to recycle. What about NOT going to Starbucks? That seems to be the only real solution. I make my iced tea at home (sportea) and carry it with me wherever I go. 

  30. Amy says:

    While we are getting riled up about the waste of cups at Starbucks, let us not forget to question Starbucks other pr campaigns regarding the working conditions of its employees (I would be interested to know what the new employee thinks of the work environment and how this opinion changes over time) Starbucks’ purchase of responsibly produced coffee, and the prices paid to farmers
    Starbucks buys over 100 million pounds of coffee each year, yet less than 1% is purchased from coffee farmers who are guaranteed a living wage. – (Global Exchange 2003)
    Starbucks insures a lower percentage of its workforce than Wal-Mart – (Starbucks Workers Union no date)
     Learn more at

  31. Meghan says:

    Thank you for this reminder, Beth and anonymous. I have written to Stbx in the past but did so just again – I DETEST using a personal cup in drive-thru and having them pour a drink out of a paper cup into my cup. That defeats the whole purpose of using a reusable cup in the first place! I’ve seen it at many area stores. In the letter I just wrote I suggested having a specific tumbler to make the “personal cup” drive-thru drinks in or just waiting and using my own cup. I do understand needing to keep the drive-thru efficient but it’s a very frustrating practice.

    • PaulLexFree says:

      Good article and good comments. A potential solution to one problem: don’t use the drive-through window.  Plus idling at drive-through lines is not environmentally friendly.   REMINDER TO SELF: bring my own cup and don’t drive-through.

      • Meghan says:

        This was my response from Stbx customer service:
        “We measure your beverage in a paper cup first because local health laws prohibit us from pouring coffee directly in to our customers cups. We also do so because measurement of the beverage is essential to Starbucks success, we want you to have your beverage made right and well every time. Thanks for letting us clear that up with you.”
        That makes it sound like they do it not just for the drive-thru window but I’m positive I’ve seen them make it directly in my cup inside, so this reply does not make sense…

        • peaJayFish says:

          No, you are right, that reply is total nonsense.  There are no local health laws against using a consumer’s container anywhere I have ever lived (many, many places) as long as it appears to be clean.  At every STBX I have ever been in, they take my cup, no matter how clean, and rinse it with hot water from a machine before making my drink.  I usually get just dark roast with soy milk, but even on occassions I have treated myself to a specialty drink, I have watched closely that they make it directly into my cup.
          I have long lamented the lack of recycling containers at STBX, it just doesn’t make sense.  It would be so easy to provide that!  Even here in Pocatelo, Idaho, they would only need one container for cups and lids (better if taken off), for we have combined recycling here (which I’m suspicious of, but that’s a comment for another day).

  32. Laurie says:

    When Starbucks first came to my town many many years ago they did ask if you were staying or going and if staying they gave you a ceramic mug.  It has been years since they have done this and honestly I just assumed they did away with the mugs altogether.  While I now take my travel mug and use it no matter whether I’m planning to sit down in Starbucks or take it To Go, next time I’ll ask if they can serve me in a ceramic mug instead. 

  33. Amy says:

    Here is waste reduction from Starbucks perspective.  The report is a bit dated, but is good insight into the corporate thought process.

    Report of theStarbucks Coffee Company/Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force
    From the Executive Summary
    “In August 1996, the Starbucks Coffee Company and the Alliance for EnvironmentalInnovation entered into a partnership to reduce the environmental impacts of servingcoffee in Starbucks retail stores. ………Starbucks is committed to environmental leadership in all aspects of its businesspractices and therefore joined the Alliance for Environmental Innovation in an effort toreduce the specific environmental impacts associated with the use of disposable cups”

  34. Beach babe says:

    Im Very Old fashioned- coming form the end of the Earth (australia/NZ) I wouldnt dream of patronising  Star Bucks or any like it. Once and only once to be dissappointed. Coffee is meant to be SERVED in a ceramic cup and  bought To you (as in a La carte) To Wait In Line then have some one YELL at you is Not service!! Its American. (sorry thats the way we see it) When I abandoned my Fearsome looking boyfriend at a similar venue- Boost juice ( where smoothys are served) here in Aus- the staff were too scared to call out a Female name at him, and so left the drink on the counter!  Any way, back to the issue. We as a society have embraced Conveinence as a given when its not hard to figure out it only multiplies our waste. People spend more time and fuel emmissions sitting in the drive in line- than it wld take to just stop, walk in, order. reduce carbon output (fractionally- but every bit will help)  I LOVE walkin to my cafe, waitin as long as it takes and sharing the place with only one or two others.

  35. Claire says:

    I request a mug or glass when I am Starbucks and the baristas comply. Sometimes I feel like they dislike it, but, at least in Washington state ceramic mugs and glasses are available for people who ask.

  36. LightBlue says:

    I was in Mexico City and all of the Starbucks I went to had recycling bins so you could put compostable, organic material, paper, and plastic. I noticed that no one threw anything in the trash. Napkins went into compostable and people took the tops off of their coffees/espressos and put in plastic and the paper cup in the paper bin. But Mexico as a country has a longer history of recycling in public places than the U.S.

  37. Caro Price says:

    Thanks to this person for exposing the truth…I’ll definitely think twice before getting another coffee from them.

  38. Tracey TieF says:

    I’ve been reading all of your comments and am dying to chime in. I manufacture cosmetics, and I package only in metal and glass, preferably that my clients provide. What you need to know as consumers is that behind the scenes – behind everything you buy ready made – is a tragic pile of plastic. That is why the focus of my business is teaching people how to make things themselves. There is always less waste on the back end when you buy ingredients and DIY. Let me reveal to you the tragedy of my waste count. I am using the term tragedy consciously – it is an avoidable, bad thing. Let’s say I order 25 kgs of natural soda. I will repackage it by the kilo in reused jars and bags, so there’s no harm there. But the giant double layer paper bag is shipped to me in a cardboard box lined with 2 plastic bags. For strength? Apparently not because these are the flimsy now banned in China ultra light bags. It’s that way because of perception aesthetics alone. People feel that plastic is “clean” apparently, although to me it’s filthy, and likely contaminated with lead and radioactive particles. So I reuse the flimsy bags to pack excess recycling because they are clear and I would never ever buy plastic recycling bags. And I politely ask my supplier to stop. And they tell me people like it. I am persistent. I am loved. I am worth tens of thousands of dollars to them every year. I got them to agree to refill their jugs at the warehouse. I have, by teaching monthly for them, increased their sales of glass and metal packaging exponentially. But *sigh* the double bagging persists. Another apparently innocent example: I order a case of metal bottles. they are 100% recyclable, 99% recycled aluminum. That saved 14,000 times the energy it would take to make new; so far so good. And they come packed in a corrugated cardboard box. Excellent. Without warning, the manufacturer took out the cardboard separators and replaced them with individual plastic bags inserted over the open tops of every bottle. 20 bottles = 20 bags. So I reuse the bags to package the dry bulk items people order – clays and minerals etc. I donate excess bags to Arts Junktion for educators. But alas, behind every metal bottle is a bag. And back at the warehouse of my supplier, the cases of bottles were in bigger boxes that were wrapped top to bottom on skids with plastic strapping and cling wrap. Interestingly enough, most of that 2% of plastic that is recycled in North America is that violently toxic cling wrap used to secure pallets of stuff. And I am saying all this because I want you to know that there is always a back end to what we are consuming. The supplier could be a freak like me who asks, cajoles, complains and embarasses her suppliers, but ultimately we need our whole society to put its collective foot down. Flimsy plastic bags that are used to keep products “clean” cost billions of dollars worldwide as they clog up machines in recycling and waste processing plants, all the way to clogging sewers and leading to flood damage. This is why China has banned the flimsy bags. Take that in. CHINA HAS BANNED WHAT WE CAN’T SEEM TO GET ENOUGH OF. And I know that waste management here in Toronto would love to get plastic bags out of the waste stream. Virtually every stoppage in the plants is due to bags stuck in the gears and thing-ys. People always say – what is the alternative? I say human beings have existed for tens of thousands of years eating, drinking, storing and trading. Look to what we used before plastic became the norm. It’s not so long ago. Bring back the world of the jelly jar with the crimped metal lid, the crates insulated with saw dust, local manufacturing and the realization that if it came all the way from the other side of the planet it will rightfully cost more. Bring back the knowledge of how to make our own cleaning products and delicious foods! Okay, rant over. Complain persistently and lovingly. Thanks for listening.

    • Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles) says:

       @Tracey TieF I am glad you wrote this rant. And I am even gladder that you keep badgering your suppliers to give you more environmentally friendly packaging.

  39. DanielleRichardet says:

    WHOA… this is ridiculous.  Though, the more I think about it… I’m not overly shocked about some things.  I think that there (obviously) is A LOT of room for improvement.  BUT… what is irking me the most is that if people are trying to do the right thing by bringing their own mug… they are completely blind to the fact that Starbucks is creating the trash anyway!!  What’s the point of telling people to “BYOM” ??  To appear environmentally conscious??  To make people feel all warm and fuzzy for doing the right thing??  I don’t get it.
    Ok… so I don’t frequent Starbucks.  The only time I go there is when we’re traveling and there’s nothing else.  They do have ceramic mugs… BUT… you have to specifically ask for them.  Same goes for a spoon… when asking for a spoon use the term “metal spoon” otherwise you are sure to get single-use plastic.  How come they don’t ask, “for ‘here’ or ‘to-go'”??  You answer “here”, you get reusables.  How much money could Starbucks save on product and trash service by making a simple change??  (I’d venture to say a lot).
    Another thing that isn’t in this post that bothers me is their little honey packets.  When I go to Starbucks (which isn’t often because of this), I only get hot green tea (which I should say that, as a “high-end” coffee shop, they should do bulk tea in the paper pouches).  Anyway, every time I get a tea there, I do so without honey because those packets are so stupid!  Honey is sticky… you’d be lucky to get a half a teaspoon from a packet.  Every other place that I have gotten tea from has a little honey carafe (and some even have agave in a squeeze bottle).
     Oh, and here’s a pic of the very rare reusable mug at Starbucks ;)

  40. Mags says:

    I am a coffee addict, and for years bought Starbucks coffee to brew at home (I don’t buy elaborate drinks, or any drinks, in the store). I became frustrated by the enormous stack of plastic coffee bags that I accumulated because they aren’t recyclable. I still have all of them. I finally made the switch to coffee I can get in a compostable paper bag, even though I can’t find a coffee bean that tastes as good as their Gold Coast bold. But I couldn’t justify the bag waste anymore. They don’t seem to do anything to deal with their packaging. I’m glad to be rid of Starbucks, and am not confident they’ll do anything to change their ways.

    • Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles) says:

      I don’t know where you live, Mags, but if you happen to be near a Peet’s coffee, they will scoop beans directly into your own container from their bins: I use an air-tight metal canister to store my coffee.

    • Becca says:

      Mags (and anyone else with a stash of metallized foil bags), if you email
      becca [at] earthlingshandbook [dot] org
      I will give you my postal address and you can send me your bags.  I am collecting them for a company that will make them into tote bags; I have to have a large amount before I can send them and they’ll reimburse me for postage.  If you have really a huge amount, ask me for the address to send them directly to the company.

  41. One of the reasons I believe that Starbucks failed in Australia (apart from the perception of poor quality coffee) was the use of disposable cups.  As a general rule, most Australian cafes use ceramic cups and wash them for in-store service, and I think that’s what most people prefer.  Unfortunately, like everywhere else, takeaway coffee is usually served in disposable cups unless people bring their own.

  42. laurawk1 says:

    Thanks for posting this.  I don’t frequent Starbucks but go there periodically and had more importantly bought many gift cards for others from Starbucks.  I’ll definitely be writing to them now.  I have been into a few non-name brand coffee shops and cafes where I order an iced coffee in my reusable mug and they make it in a disposable and tell me I can pour it into my mug if I want.  They don’t tell me this upfront when I hand them the mug so I can’t stop it – incredibly frustrating!  I wonder why they think I want the drink in a reusable mug in the first place?

  43. EcoYogini says:

    You know- in Nova Scotia where it is the LAW to recycle and compost, I have seen a few “for here” mugs being used by people who are sitting and staying to drink. It happens. That said- the Starbucks are hit and miss with their recycling- which is a terrible example of how big corporations can skim under provincial law :(

  44. Meechity says:

    @EcoCatLady I commend your attitude to just live away from convenience foods. I personally really like strong Starbucks coffee, it makes me happy, I don’t drink it to medicate. :) I also cold brew my own coffee at home, but the local Starbucks charges me 53 CENTS for a big coffee refill with 2 espresso shots. That’s a score!!

    I think because ‘Bucks is so big and SO ingrained in the day to day lives of many people including the very rich and powerful, that adopting efforts to improve its shade of green would have a ripple effect on society. It’s true that a bandaid isn’t going to stop an artery from bleeding, but it’s better than nothing, and Starbucks is here to stay. :( I feel like its a responsibility of us consumers to at least try meekly to staunch the blood flow.

  45. EcoCatLady says:

    This sort of post leaves me with such mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m so glad that there are people looking at this sort of thing and trying to think of ways to improve the status quo. On the other hand, to me this entire topic strikes me as the equivalent of trying to make a healthy brownie or putting a band-aid on an amputation.
    I guess from my perspective, the problem isn’t really that Starbucks isn’t green enough, it’s that we live in a crazy culture where a concept as ludicrous as take out coffee can flourish. I realize that I’m operating several standard deviations away from the norm here, but I just can’t help it.
    I mean just look at it from a Martian’s perspective for a moment. We live in a society where everybody is overworked and sleep deprived, so we rely on instantly and readily available liquid stimulants in order to keep everything running. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the beans to create this beverage are shipped in from half way around the planet… And what we’re worried about is the fact that the cups aren’t recycled – never mind the fact that recycling them generally entails shipping them half way across the world again…
    I dunno… I know my perspective is radical and not likely to catch on, but personally, I’d rather put my efforts into helping a few people open their eyes a bit, and realize that they don’t have to participate in the craziness of our culture which allows places like Starbucks to thrive in the first place. Seems to me that if people just started getting adequate amounts of sleep, and refused to take on such busy schedules where they’re “out and about” all day long and need a quick “pick-me-up,” we’d all be so much better off.
    Sorry to rant. I wish you all the best of luck in your efforts to hold Starbucks to their green claims. But since I’ve never set foot in one of their shops, and have no intention of ever doing so, I think I’ll just keep plugging away at trying to change the bigger picture – lofty, impractical and idealistic as that may be.

    • Emile says:

       @EcoCatLady  I agree with most of this…although I think a big part of the problem is that, in a lot of places, Starbucks is one of the few places for people to congregate and meet friends other than a bar.  This also needs to change.  

      • I do love the idea of cafes, and don’t think a social gathering place like this is that crazy – but yes the collective caffeine addiction is sort of nuts, and the lack of recycling and horrific waste is simply insane. I had no idea they were wasting a cup to fill my reusable mug, that makes me so sad. 

      • EcoCatLady says:

        I TOTALLY support having places where people can congregate, it’s the whole “take-out” coffee aspect that just mystifies me. I just don’t understand why people want to life life “on the run.”

      • EcoCatLady says:

        Plus… and I promise I’ll stop ranting soon… I fail to understand why we need multi-national corporations to provide us with something as basic as a coffee house. In my mind, a coffee house is (or should be) the quintessential small, locally owned, neighborhood run business. 
        Clearly, I am in the minority on this one (as I am on most topics that have to do with popular culture,) and that’s pretty much what I would expect. I just chafe against the idea that EVERYTHING must be commercialized and corporatized. Maybe I was just born in the wrong century.

        • Saltwater says:

           @EcoCatLady Well if you’re in the minority I’m with you. I agree, places to congregate are great but the “life on the run” lifestyle just contributes to so much waste and stress. And corporations running everything is nuts. 
          This whole thing makes me want to start a local earth-friendly coffeehouse, but we’re in Seattle so we’re full of coffeehouses already. :)

    • Becca says:

       @EcoCatLady Great points!  I drink a lot of coffee, but I buy to-go coffee only rarely, mostly when traveling, and even then I’m often able to use a travel mug.  If I’m out and about, usually it’s possible to take a coffee break in a place that has real mugs, and in fact the pick-me-up is more effective if I take a coffee BREAK rather than trying to walk or drive while slugging back hot liquid!  I also feel that the coffee tastes better in a real cup and is more pleasant to drink.  If I’m drinking it to stave off a headache, pressing the warm ceramic against my temples and ears helps to adjust the uneven blood circulation in my head that’s causing the pain–a disposable cup doesn’t transmit heat the same way and is more likely to slosh coffee into my hair!
      I have lived for 10 years on the same block with a Starbucks–it’s practically in my back yard–and I pass two others in my daily commute, but I never ever go there except on Election Day when they give you a free coffee for voting.  It’s easy to boycott because there are so many other places to buy ready-to-drink coffee in my neighborhood; I patronize the local businesses with real cups because they’re local and have real cups!  But on those few occasions when I’ve had Starbucks coffee, I’ve found it awfully bitter and burned-tasting.
      My boss buys to-go coffee from Starbucks twice a day, every day, and his wastebasket looks like the one pictured in this article!  The only good thing I can say about that is, it appears he doesn’t throw away much else….

  46. Jenny Rustemeyer says:

    so frustrating; although, I must admit I’ve had good luck just asking for a ceramic mug to stay.

  47. Michael Smithingtonsworthly says:

    I wrote them a message and made it clear that I won’t be spending my money there without an earnest attempt at change. I’ll let you know if I get a response.

  48. JayadeepPurushothaman says:

    In India, most of the local coffee(and tea-shops) used to provide steel or ceramic glasses for tea or coffee, but these days even the street side shops in cities use plastic glasses because they are dirt cheap and they can just throw it away. The other problem is there is water scarcity in most Indian cities which prevents them from washing those glasses(steel or ceramic) and re-using it. Water may be far more expensive than plastic cups for them. But the root cause IMO is the urban living which is based on fast-food and eating out most of the time. And plastic is big part of urban living – your lives in cities would stall if they stop producing plastics. I think we are definitely on a downward spiral of destruction of nature so far down the line  that we will not be able to arrest  with any kind of efforts.

  49. Shannon says:

    Some of this is health code requirements. They CAN’T reuse plastic cups. Any company like this is going to follow the health code, regardless of what their customers want. And yes, they’re going to toss out all those lids and cups that got stuff splashed on them. Again, this is because they *have* to. 
    I work at a restaurant. When stuff falls on the floor, it gets tossed. When paper goods and plastic get stuff on them, we toss them. I can’t hand someone something that has soup or anything else on it. Do we recycle? No. Is this my choice? No. It’s a restaurant that shares its dumpster area with three other restaurants. The people that own the building handle that stuff and they aren’t going for a recycle bin. This doesn’t even touch the part where we have employees that aren’t necessarily going to pay attention to which can the recycling goes into and which can the garbage goes into. 
    Could Starbucks put out recycling bins for its customers? Yes, they could. But they may have nowhere for that recycling to go.
    I don’t say this to discourage people. There are things they could be doing better. Reusable mugs in-store? Absolutely. More sensible packaging? Yes. They’re a big enough company that they could probably even redesign those espresso cups to fit under the spout. 

    • AdamBritten says:

      Yeah, sadly there is probably more to this story than just Starbucks policies – health codes can really make for some “ungreen” practices that the company cannot control.

    • Meechity says:

      @Shannon Well said. I think it is the responsible choice of Starbucks to at least figure out a way to offer recycling in store, or stop offering plastic at all. It’s a cost but at least 16 zillion tons of paper cups will return to the earth someday.

  50. Allison Dey says:

    I don’t frequent fast food places or take out cafes. Not only do I not want to participate in the waste, I don’t think the products are very healthy to eat and drink. I’ve just found it simplifies my life to avoid them completely. I didn’t grow up with fast food. My family went to actual restaurants. It’s very easy to not use fast food/ fast drink. You just don’t go in. Thanks for the link to request better environmental practices, but I prefer these kind of places simply disappear. These businesses are so tied up in rainforest destruction, oil waste production (plastics), promoting unhealthy foods, with rich CEOs and poor service staff…..the usual big business model. My friends and I have always preferred local cafes who use mugs to prepare drinks and real dishes for freshly baked pastry or sandwiches.

  51. Celloluv says:

    Another thing I just thought about that I learned is that not all Starbucks are “real” Starbuck stores.  Some places, like at some airports, just sell all the Starbuck’s products so their staff wouldn’t be trained by Starbucks.  That might be why there are some differences in how they handle things.

  52. Kirsty Bremner says:

    Down here in texas they have ceramic mugs too. Always a little confused when my Dutch friends and I (Brit) ask for them, but they’re getting used to it.

  53. tbailen says:

    Their contact form was a pretty easy way for me to say “I really really want to be able to recycle the cups from Starbucks. Would you please get recycling bins at all of the stores?” If they hear this often enough, change will happen.

  54. curlytop says:

    In Toronto, any coffee cup (tim hortons, starbucks, second cup…) is not actually recycled by the city!! Very few people know this, so they continue to use them, it’s very sad. In most locations, there is the possibility to use reusable containers, but it is not encouraged at all- employees are always very surprised when I request a mug.

  55. monkeyjen says:

    I see durable mugs at Starbucks. The larger ones-maybe not the corner financial district types. Also, it seems that what the writer is talking about is more of a failures of the state/local legislation. I have lived in nj and ca and recycling was mandatory in both places. also, technically the cups arent recyclabl, they are compostable. It’s my understanding that soiled paper and cardboard are not recyclable. I’m not saying that Starbucks is some bastion of greenery, but the biggest problem for the writer seems to be the local culture, recycling laws and also consumer education.

    • TigerLee says:

      “What do you think is the best way to get their attention?” I think we need to know what city this is in (I am monkeyjen). Like I said in my earlier post, I think each Starbucks has a different standard based on the community they reside in. Knowing which city or county or whatever would allow us to write to Starbucks about education needed in a specific area. A general comment might be for Barristas-in-training to use durable cups.

  56. inawesternplace says:

    I love coffee, but I love the environment more. Personal boycott aside, I’ll be sharing this post to help get the word out that the only thing “green” at Starbucks, is their logo.

  57. Kat says:

    I remember Starbucks having washable mugs at some point, I’ve seen them both in Massachusetts and California. However, that was a while ago and I get the feeling not enough people were asking for them so they phased them out. Overall, Starbucks needs to step up. I’ve always wondered why they don’t implement some sort of recycling program, or get the faux plastic cups made from corn that are compostable (then again, not sure how well they’d stand up to heat. I’ve only ever had smoothies in them). Speaking of which, I’m going to shoot off an e-mail to them after this comment. No time like the present!
    Lastly, I just wanted to add some clarification about something the employee mentioned, about throwing away the stacks of cups that get splashed with syrup, versus, say washing them off (the employee didn’t say that last part, but it would be the next logical step when trying to avoid waste). My thinking with that is that is may be for cross-contamination reasons. For instance, not all of their mixes or syrups are gluten free, and unless an employee can memorize which syrups are, can recognize them from the stains on the cups, and knows when the recipes change, then it’s safer for the customer if they get rid of the contaminated cups versus exposing the customer to cross contamination. However, that doesn’t mean the cups should go straight into the trash. The overarching theme here is that Starbucks doesn’t have any recycling program in place, and really fricking needs one!

  58. JessMiller says:

    I always ask for a ceramic mug for “here” and I have never had a problem with availability, though sometimes you have to be explicit and state you want a reusable mug from the store–especially if the barista isn’t used to receiving the request. I find a lot of my issues are geographical. If you live in a place that isn’t used to requests for reusable mugs, and their default is a paper cup. More explicit communication and explanation is required with the barista verses when I used to live in Seattle, reusable mugs are the norm. Same goes with using my own reusable to go tumbler. I have not had issues with baristas using paper cups for measuring at places that are used to people bringing their own cup (or if you are a regular at the store–the baristas begin to expect your reusable cup). However, when I went to a Starbucks at an obscure Midwest town that seemed to not be on the green “up and up,” the barista wasted a paper cup in order to use it for measurements for my plastic tumbler. It seems a lot of it is community culture.

  59. Kristina Vakharia-LoRe says:

    its not just stbx, its any chain! funny thing is that it would save them money not being so wasteful

  60. JessMiller says:

    I always ask for a ceramic mug for “here” and I have never had a problem with availability, though sometimes you have to be explicit and state you want a reusable mug–especially if the barista isn’t used to receiving the request. I find a lot of my issues are geographical. If you live in a place that isn’t used to seeing reusable mugs, more explicit communication and explanation is required verses when I used to live in Seattle, reusable mugs are the norm. Same goes with using my reusable mug. I have not had issues with baristas using paper mugs for measuring at places that are used to people bringing their mug (or if you are a regular at the store–the baristas begin to expect your reusable mug). However, when I went to a Starbucks at in an obscure Midwest town that seemed to not be on the green “up and up,” the barista wasted a paper cup in order to use it for measurements for my plastic tumbler. It seems a lot of it is community culture.

  61. Zansus Purses says:

    such waste. the cups can be composted and if you drink on site, why the cup to begin with?

  62. Nova Lee says:

    Go to site below and make a suggestion to buy some reusable measuring cups already!

  63. Marina says:

    There were washable mugs at a starbucks I went to in Zurich, Switzerland. Obviously more eco-concious Europeans have demanded them. Never seen a US starbucks offer anything of the sort, but the fact that they exist in Europe tells me starbucks would change if pressured to do so.

    • David says:

      I can’t recall a Starbucks in Europe where I haven’t been given a ceramic mug for drink in by default.  Sometimes they may run out, but I can’t think of any other time I’ve seen it happen.

  64. Molly says:

    Thank goodness I never developed a taste for coffee!  I’ve never purchased a thing from Starbucks, and very rarely have I purchased an Italian soda or hot chai from a similar place, in instances where it would be awkward to not consume anything.  I love tea, but that’s easy enough to prepare at home, at work, or in anyplace with a microwave.  When I’m away from home, water from my reusable bottle suits me fine.  If it’s cold, I pack hot tea or even hot chocolate in my thermal bottle.  I know my habits are not for everyone, but I’m too poor to embark upon a caffeine habit anyway.  I wouldn’t feel too guilty about indulging in a beverage in a disposable container on a rare occasion, but I’m still happy that water is my beverage of choice.

  65. Emm Ruiz says:

    I have never worked for any sort of large company that didn’t produce ungodly amounts of trash, & never recycle at that. Bed bath & beyond, dollar tree, Victoria’ Secret.. Everything shipped to them comes in boxes of boxes of boxes. It’s no surprise that starbucks is “not green”.

  66. Renee Caldwell says:

    Packaging of all types in this country is a huge issue….

  67. Beth – Thank you again! As one who has been conscious of my water, paper, and consumables since college waaaay back in the 1970’s, it frustrates me NO END when I see people falling for the “Eco-Marketing” con. Claiming you are green doesn’t make you green. Appearing green doesn’t make you green. It’s like these dang “green cars.” I’m sorry, but you are STILL plugging the thing into an electrical outlet which uses oil to recharge your car. Your car still has plastic in it and vinyl and other oil-based products.
    This Starbucks story is a wake up call — we all need to stop lying to ourselves. And we need to hold companies like Starbucks accountable. ASK for a recycle bin. ASK for ceramic cups. ASK them to prove their “green-ness” or stop using it in their advertising.
    The time has come, the walrus said, for us to all focus on personal responsibility, corporate accountability, and conscious living…

    • Meechity says:

      Wait… totally off topic but… how does recharging an electric car use oil?? I’m seriously curious, thanks! :)

      • Katie Ostrich says:

         @Meechity Most electricity in this country is generated by coal plants….okay, so coal isn’t oil, it’s actually a fossil fuel that burns dirtier than oil. Now, if you’re plugging in your car to your house, entirely powered by the windmills in the backyard and the solar panels on the roof, great, but most of the time, this isn’t the case. Personally, I think electric cars are a necessary step, and part of how we get to renewable, and most electric vehicles are small, so I imagine their mileage in terms of volts is pretty good. But if you power your electric vehicle with coal generated electricity, it’s not any better than filling up at the gas station, possibly a little worse than just getting a very high mileage car, like a smart or hybrid like the prius.

        • Meechity says:

           @Katie Ostrich Oh dear, I was under the impression that most the USA’s electricity these days was produced with clean sources such as wind or water, or geothermal. I’m shame–shame-shaming myself as we speak. Thank you for the information. I live in PA where coal is still being touted on billboards as “CLEAN”, it’s abominable. I can’t wait to see the coal industry go under.

  68. abzarndt says:

    Thanks to the brave employee who shared this.  We don’t have a Starbucks in my town, though I do patronize them when I travel.  But much of what is shared here I see to be true in other coffee shops.  For Starbucks in general I can see us all writing to them and encouraging others to do the same.  (Rather than general e-mails, it might be more effective to wait until you visit a Starbucks and can then write something regarding the specific location you were at and very specific things you saw there.)  I am a strong believer in each one of us having to speak up and stick our necks out.  If you go into a coffee shop and are staying, ask for a ceramic mug.  If they don’t have them, then tell them, “okay, no thanks, I’ll go somewhere else!”  Or if it is a place you go to often, ask for the manager and say that as a regular customer you’d like to see them make certain changes.  I pick and choose my times for speaking up and taking a stand — I don’t always do it.  But when I have the time and energy, I do (much to the dismay of my 11 year-old!).  The other day I went into Home Depot in search of large compostable paper trash bags to use for our garden waste (the twiggy stuff that doesn’t work in our compost pile).  I asked the two young employees stationed by the front door where they might be.  They looked at each other and both said that they hadn’t had those in a few years, they only had plastic bags.  I told them that, during the summer in our town, there is city compost pick-up, and if you put your yard debris out in a paper compostable bag it will be picked up with the compost.  They both raised their eyebrows and said, “really?”  I suggested they mention this to their higher ups as I didn’t want their plastic bags and then walked out of the store.  I don’t expect that will change anything at this point, but if enough people did it. . . (I did find the bags I was looking for at our locally owned Ace Hardware store.) 

    • SoopaJane says:

       @abzarndt I actually had the opposite experience with those compostable paper yard waste bags. My locally-owned Ace Hardware that I love so much only had plastic bags, and I (unexpectedly) found a huge stack of the paper bags at Walmart for only $4. First time I’ve been to Walmart in many months, but there they were, in the garden section.
      Also, I’ve found that in Starbucks in both Virginia (where I just moved from) and Louisiana (where I just moved to), both in large metro areas, they have ceramic and glass mugs, which they’ll put your coffee into if you ask them to. However, the baristas get really confused, and several of them have had to ask managers if that’s ok. I’ve also frequently had the experience of a barista (at Starbucks and other coffee chains) measuring my drink out in a plastic or paper cup before pouring it into a real mug, whether mine or theirs. This practice, and the pushback from employees that it’s “the only way to measure the drinks” has pushed me to do one of two things:
      1) Never order anything other than straight coffee, as no measurement is necessary; OR
      2) Only buy lattes and the like from locally owned coffee shops.
      There’s too much institutionalization and rigid rules which promote wastefulness at large chains. Locally owned shops not only are more willing to cater, but they allow you develop personal relationships with friendly employees, which I very much value.
      Also, on a side note: the number of times I have seen waitstaff at restaurants, who forgot to nix the straw in my water, but then remembered on the way to the table, pulled the straw out, and threw it away like I wouldn’t notice, is kind of crazy. 

  69. oneyearoftrash says:

    Hi Beth-
    Great post. I really appreciate this. As a Seattle native, I see way too much Starbucks trash.
    Although I don’t really intend to stand up for Starbucks, I do want to say that they do offer ceramic mugs for in-store drinking. If you ask for your order “for here”, they will write your drink order on a small slip of paper instead of a single-use cup, and the barista will make sure it goes into a ceramic mug. Most stores don’t have them displayed, but you just have to ask.
    In Seattle, where we consider ourselves green and have a Starbucks on 50% of all commercial blocks, I’m absolutely appalled at the waste. Yes, we can recycle the lids and cups here, and compost the drink sleeves, but it rarely gets done. We have a mix of stores with and without recycling, and I am unclear if outside Seattle city limits if it was for both hot and cold cups. Sure the hot cups are recyclable, but that is assuming your city accepts these types of containers. We all know that having arrows and and a number on a plastic item doesn’t mean anything about it’s ability to be recycled in most areas.
    That garbage can looks like it could be from downtown Seattle on a Saturday afternoon.

  70. As for those cups being recyclable:  They aren’t recycled everywhere.  Here in NYC, household recycling for plastic is ONLY small-necked bottles and jars.  Some businesses have single-stream recycling here so your Starbucks plastic cup MIGHT be recycled there.  I’m not sure if the author was referring to paper cups being recyclable, but here in NYC, food-soiled paper is NOT permitted into paper recycling.  I’ve heard that the concern is that food will contaminate the paper batch.  To ensure there is NO food-soiled paper in the batch I believe NYC asks that us not put any paper plates/cups/napkins into our household paper recycling.

  71. Maddie says:

    It is too bad that the leaders of Starbucks don’t take a more active roll with regards to waste. I do know that the Starbucks in my Seattle neighborhood has on-site recycling and composting as well as trash.  They also offer ceramic cups, plates and silverware but you have to ask for the cups.  If you tell them the food item is to eat in they always ask if you want a ceramic plate. Most of the Starbucks in my area leave  bagged used coffee grounds in the lobby area for anyone to easily take away.  It really doesn’t seem that hard to set up and for the stores in Seattle due to how Seattle manages waste collection,  I am sure the stores actually save money setting up the recycle/compost/trash stations.

  72. Nicole Hoke says:

    Most of the Starbucks in California do offer ceramic mugs in store. I never use my reusable cup in the drive through because of course they’re going to make the drink in a disposable cup before you get to the window. When I see them waste a disposable cup before they pour it into my reusable cup when I’m in the store, I always politely explain why that defeats the purpose of me bringing my own. It is possible for customers to reduce the waste, but obviously Starbucks should be doing a better job of providing for recycling of disposable cups thrown away in the store. Many west coast stores are in cities where recycling and/or composting are mandatory, so those stores do better.

  73. Claire Baker says:

    I hated working at SBUX cause of the wastefulness. My trainers never tossed bad drinks though or wasted cups for training though.

    It’s the kind of business that could do well while cutting back. Devote a staff member (and rotate them) to washing dishes. All in-house drinks can be served in durable ceramic. Offer sales or meaningful discounts on to-go cups. Start handing out sugar packets and napkins with each drink handoff when requested. Might take time to answer specific requests for more but it’s less time spent on the floor refilling.

    SBUX grew because of their amazing marketing (they used to say just as much in their training videos). I’m sure they could sell the changes just as much as their burnt beans.

  74. Karen Rao Baumgartner says:

    Starbucks in Europe use ceramic mugs and glasses for people drinking their coffee in the store unless you request a disposable cup.

  75. Clif says:

    I don’t go to Starbuck’s but I do go to Panera where there tons of plastic is dispensed. Directly outside the front door there is a municipal recycling bin next to a municipal garbage bin.
    When I am done with my coffee, I go to the place in the store where people dump their stuff and proceed to pull out as much plastic as I can reach. Judy and I call this “harvesting” and I never fail to build up a stack of smoothie and soft drink cups of all sizes. I then take the big stack and put it 20 feet away in the municipal recycling bin.
    Then, I remove the lid from the municipal garbage bin and proceed to do exactly the same thing I did inside Panera – extracting Panera plastic, dumping the remaining liquids and placing the plastic in the recycling bin.
    This whole process takes about five minutes. I’ve been doing it routinely for well over a year.
    Once in a great while, someone will say (it’s always a woman or a foreign person) “thanks for doing that!”
    My questions: 1) Why are people in this day and time so oblivious to the recycling bin right in front of the store? 2) Why are people so oblivious to the recycling bin when it is placed RIGHT NEXT to the garbage bin – to the point that they put recyclables in the garbage?
    This Panera is in a very upscale neighborhood where BMW and Land Rover SUV’s crowd the parking lot. I’m talking big wealth here – the kind of people who pride themselves on intelligence and accomplishment. But they are blind.

    • abzarndt says:

      One thing I love about this site is hearing from other people who do seemingly weird things, just like I do!  I have also taken plastic out of trash cans and moved it into recycling bins!  My thanks to you for doing that!  Have you ever tried to talk to the manager at the store and requested that they make some changes with signs, placement of bins, etc. to encourage more proper disposal?  Truly, I think there is so much we can do just by being willing to speak up and make a stink! 

      • Clif says:

         @abzarndt  You’re right about talking to people. I forgot to mention my big accomplishment at the Panera earlier this year: the recycling bin in front of the store was never being emptied by the city. It was usually overflowing and I’d noticed something I put in a week earlier was still there. I noticed Panera employees would come out and empty the recycling bin into their own garbage dumpsters.
        I went to city hall and asked why no pickups were taking place. They were surprised, called the contractor and it turned out the contractor was passing over the site. Now they don’t and it’s never full. Score one for the Cliffer!  : )

    • Clif says:

       @Clif Good news at Panera – when I went there today I noticed that they have installed a new counter for people to dispose of their eating materials and it includes a labeled slot for plastic and paper. Taking a look inside, I was happy to see that most of the plastic is now going into recycling instead of the trash.
      I think I will ask them if they might put up a message by the recycling slot that says “Do you prefer not to use plastic? We have mugs upon request” (because they do)

  76. Dayna De Hoyos says:

    Thank you for posting.

  77. sharprs says:

    I’d be concerned that even if they put in a recycle bin for the plastic cups, it may not do any good. People may use them, but won’t the recycling center want those cups rinsed well prior to being sent to them? Also, lids and straws in my experience are not accepted by recyclers. Recycling for paper/cardboard might be effective as long as they can prevent folks from dropping paper cups in there. The cardboard sleeves and any other paper waste would be clean enough.
    A couple Starbuckses I go to do have reusable mugs, though they are displayed on a shelf that makes them look like they’re for sale, so I’ve barely noticed. However, I usually watch them make my drink (chai) and they always make it directly in the cup.
    One of the silly things about drinking in the building is that if you get a refill, they _want_ to give you a new paper cup every refill you get. They also want to give you a lid, even if you ask them not to. One small win I had was that I asked for no lid, was told it was policy to include one, and then I convinced her by pointing out that mugs have no lid. Same thing happened when I got refills that night, I had to convince her the first time that I didn’t need a new cup. A couple refills later she was used to it, and when a coworker told her it was policy to give a new cup every time, she told him the customer’s always right.
    The worst that ever happened to me is that I took in a Life Factory glass bottle to fill with a Frappuccino, and though it’s precisely the size of a venti cup which they make beverages to fill all day long, the barrista managed to overmake my drink and poured the 12 oz of excess in a small plastic cup and gave it to me with a lid alongside my filled bottle.

  78. Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles) says:

    What a brave employee to send you this, Beth (and a conscientious one). I have no love for Starbucks (don’t like their coffee or their manners), but Starbucks is in almost every airport in the United States as well as in countless towns, so if we could get them to get greener, it would help the earth a lot. If we each send an email to every person we know who does patronize Starbucks and ask them to write Starbucks about their waste, citing this article, perhaps we will improve the situation.

  79. Jeremybot says:

    I am a card carrying “gold” Starbucks member. I go just about everyday and ALWAYS bring my own reusable cup. Granted its made from plastic, but at least I dont use the disposable ones they provide. FYI: If you bring your own cup Starbucks gives you $.10 off your drink. 
    Before I bought the reusable cups I would save the plastic cups which are #5s and bring them to whole foods for recycling in the Gimme 5 Bin. It would be great to get Starbucks to team up with the people at Preserve Products who provide those bins to offer in store (plastic) cup and lid recycling.  

  80. Millie Lewis Barnes says:

    Why oh why can people not make coffee at home and save a TON of money…or at least take a coffee cup with them, a travel mug…

  81. Reenie says:

    I’ve called our local starbucks about putting recycle bin outside for the glass drinks, such as the Izzi carbonated beverages which is usually what I’d be getting since I don’t drink coffee.  They said it was too much trouble to do that.  The local stores are operating on automatic; they need to get t heir orders from above. Someone with common sense needs to take over at starbucks main corporate office.  There are many simple affordable changes that they can make within a month that would turn things around.  Thanks for the article. And bravo to the employee for sharing this with your readers.

  82. Celloluv says:

    I do Starbucks once a week.  I’m not a coffee drinker but get smoothies in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.  I always request to have a “real” cup or glass and 99% of the time get my drink served in a glass or ceramic cup.  My son works at Starbucks as well and says they make an attempt to keep re-useable cups and glasses on hand but breakage is huge and they often go through their stock. Plus, depending how busy the store is, someone needs to wash dishes which may make ceramic cups unavailable.  I see most people who are drinking their coffee in the store are using disposable cups, a few with a commuter cup.  I don’t think people know they can ask.
    I also take my glass straw for my smoothies.

  83. Tracey TieF says:

    Generally, Toronto (Ontario, Canada) Starbucks serves in ceramic mugs. 
    I find that I have to watch servers in any establishment, poised to pipe up if a disposable is about to be used. And I’ve walked out when they’ve screwed up. I figure that if I accept and pay for a screw up, the message won’t get through. So if they have to get a manager to ring through avoid because I asked for no waste, it might have an impact.
    Here, the oldest fancy coffee shop is The Second Cup. Each is independently owned. They use stainless steel things under the machine and pour these into whatever cup you want – your reusable does not have to fit under. Then the steam clean them! *gasp*. So when I order I proudly offer my reusable and say I want a ” Fair Trade Decaf Soy Vanilla Latte” in this. Can you make it without wasting paper cups?” And then I watch them. I got a cardboard sleeve at a convention centre and said “I don’t need this. My mug is insulated.” and the barrista said “We write the orders on them. We have to.” So I handed it back to her with my order crossed out.
    So once a month I torment a local coffee seller, and the rest of the time I make my own. Not as good, of course. But I have my own stainless steel milk fluffer, so ALMOST and no waste!

    • Meechity says:

       @Tracey TieF I’m so sick of this “WE HAVE TO! WE HAVE TO! It’s policy!!” bullsh**! “We have to give you a sleeve!” “We have to give you a lid!” “We have to mix your drink separately!” “We have to give you a refill in a new cup!” “We have to give you a paper bag with your single solitary cake pop!” Argh, I feel everyone’s frustration.
      And the worst feeling is politely rattling off my list of requests at the register “No extra cup, no straw, no sleeve, no receipt, I have a virtual card…” … and having the people behind me with their faces buried in their cellphones sighing loudly at me in derision, sometimes rolling their eyes. What a terrible feeling. Even so, I do it all with a little smile, sometimes I giggle and engage them with a little “it’s amazing how easy it is to memorize my waste-free list, haha!”. Rarely does it impact them positively. I hate feeling embarrassed for trying to do the right thing.

  84. KO says:

    I have a love/hate realtionship with Starbucks. I love their coffee and service but not the waste and environmental impact… This article was disturbing. I would like to know about the photo credits though. Could the owner of that photo post a contact address? I would like to ‘speak’ with them on the side. Thanks for you hard work in educating the masses!

    • BethTerry says:

      Hi KO.  I’m not sure whose photo it is because it was one I found all over the Web on many different sites.  It’s not necessarily from the specific Starbucks where this employee works.  I just used it to illustrate the idea.  (Sorry.  Usually I take all my own photos.)


  1. […] a similar story and experiences as this anonymous Starbucks employee from the Starbucks Trash: Behind the Scenes blog post, I work at one of those milk tea stores or cafes in downtown San Mateo.  It is crazy to […]