Red cups aren’t Starbucks’ only problem

Shaylen Vitale, Editor-in-Chief - Hatter Network

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Ever go out of your way to throw away your Starbucks cup in a green recycling bin? Think again.

It won’t matter, because they cannot be recycled anyway.

According to the International Coffee Organization, an estimated 600 billion paper and plastic cups are distributed around the world every year. Of that, Starbucks products are estimated to be one percent of that total. That amounts to around six billion cups every year in landfills.

They end up in landfills because Starbucks cups cannot be recycled.

It’s not just the plastic cups holding your iced latte. Paper cups for hot drinks also contribute to the problem; the inside plastic lining preventing the paper outside from becoming soggy is not recyclable by most centers. These cups take on average 20 years to decompose, according to a CNN report on the subject.

The thin interior layer of polyethylene plastic is the culprit. The environmental advocacy group STAND.Earth reports, “This plastic lining makes the cups impossible to recycle because it clogs most recycled paper mills’ machinery.” As a result, the entire cup is thrown into the landfill despite its paper exterior.

There are seven types of plastics and each is not equal in terms of their recyclability. Each plastic has its own code and recycling symbol. They are:

*Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) (1)

* High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) (2)

* Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) (3)

*Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) (4)

*Polypropylene (PP) (5)

*Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS) (6)

* Miscellaneous Plastics (includes: polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon) (7)

Most recycling plants are able to process the types one, two and three: polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride. However, the others, including type five polypropylene plastics, are unable to be recycled. Type five includes everything from rakes, yogurt cups, disposable cutlery – and coffee cups.

Nationwide, both the hot drink and plastic cups serve as a sustainability issue.

A report by the Carton Council, an industry organization committed to recycling, found that out of the over 450 paper and pulp recycling plants in the United States, only three are able to process the plastic-coated cups that Starbucks produces for hot drinks.

Volusia County is not within vicinity of one of these mills. All recycling in Volusia County is run by GEL Recycling Inc.’s branch in Orange City.

According to Kandi Winfrey, the company’s Orange City sales manager, the recycling plant is technically able to process all seven types of plastics. However, they usually only process plastic types one through three unless there are special orders for the other types of plastics.

Starbucks coffee cups, however, cannot be processed by the recycling plant at all.

“The material is not recyclable. The type of plastic that is,” said Winfrey. “The mills cannot reuse that plastic. Our plant can process it, but it cannot be reused.”

The same was true for the hot coffee cups. The plasticized liner rendered them incapable of being reused.

Winfrey said she did not know if that applied to other coffee chain cups, such as Dunkin Donuts.

Starbucks is not oblivious to its contribution to environmental pollution. In 2008, the coffee company chain announced that by 2015, they would make a 100 percent recyclable cup and to sell 25 percent of drinks in reusable cups. According to the environmental organization Plastic Pollution Coalition, ten years later, Starbucks has failed to produce a 100 percent recyclable cup and less than 1.5 percent of drinks sold are in reusable cups.

With the sweeping trend to eliminate plastic straws, Starbucks announced it would end the use of plastic straws by 2020. This action would would eliminate the waste of over one billion straws per year, but it does not answer the question about their un-recyclable cups.

When asked about their cups, the Starbucks on South Woodland Blvd, DeLand, declined to comment. All questions were directed to their corporate level, they said. Their corporate customer service team said they did not have access to the information regarding the type of plastic their cups were made with.

For a company that appears to pride itself on social impact, their sustainability initiatives are lacking. Starbucks should prioritize their environmental focus less on their drink product’s plastic straws and more on the actual drink container itself.

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