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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120 Comments on "Starbucks Trash: Behind the Scenes"

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Hi, I have more to say on the matter being a current employee at Starbucks. Today I was convulsed at how we just throw everything away to the dumpster. There is something else that needs to be considered besides the cup we deliver the drinks in, it’s the milk jugs we go through every day. I know we go through more than 150 gallons of milk a week. For statistics let say we use 150 gallons of milk, and multiple that but weeks in the year and then but how many Starbucks there are, 166,654,800 Plastic gallons in just one… Read more »
The Pearl Milk Tea Addiction | kawaiwongsfsu

[…] 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 […]

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… Read more »

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.

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

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… Read more »

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

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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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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.

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………

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.

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… Read more »

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

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.

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… Read more »

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.

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?

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,… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
 @awakeatheart  “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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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.

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,… Read more »

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.

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!

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.

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

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… Read more »

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. 

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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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.

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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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. 

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”

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… Read more »

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.

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.

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

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… Read more »
Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles)

 @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.

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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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.

Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles)

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.

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.

 @Our Red House Starbucks failed in Australia??  That’s AWESOME!!

 @Our Red House My thoughts exactly! And I agree that their coffee tastes terrible!

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… Read more »

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 :(

@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.… Read more »
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.… Read more »
 @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… Read more »

 @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.  

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.

 @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. :)

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.”

“live life” that is… I suppose one could try to “life life” but I’m not exactly sure how! :-)

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. 

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

Michael Smithingtonsworthly

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.

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.… Read more »
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… Read more »

@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.

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.

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… Read more »

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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… Read more »
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… Read more »
Kristina Vakharia-LoRe

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

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… Read more »

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

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

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.

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.

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… Read more »

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”.

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

Beth Terry the other 1
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… Read more »

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

 @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… Read more »

 @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.

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… Read more »
 @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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »

Yikes!   I didn’t proof-read, sorry.

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… Read more »
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… Read more »
Karen Rao Baumgartner

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

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… Read more »

 @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)

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! 

 @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.… Read more »

Thank you for posting.

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… Read more »
Sharyn Dimmick (The Kale Chronicles)

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.

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… Read more »

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…

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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
 @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… Read more »

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!