I love Starbucks. It’s my go-to spot for late-night study sessions. (The baristas know me by name, #embarrassing.) Last week I spied their new reusable plastic cups that sell for $1. I had a mini internal physiological earthquake as I approached the counter. For years, I have eagerly awaited this moment!
Now some of you are probably thinking I’m a complete weirdo for being so obsessive about a reusable plastic coffee mug (you do have a point). But these aren’t just more paper and wax Starbucks disposable cups. This cup is meant to revolutionize the way companies and society think about “to-go” beverage containers. Do they represent a true green marketing revolution, though, or just a green marketing ploy?
Introducing Starbucks Reusable Plastic Cups
For the past few years, Starbucks has hosted an annual “Cup Summit” that brings together the top dogs in materials engineering and packaging with Starbucks’ executives to strategize how to reduce cup waste. The latest product from this gathering is their new cup, a look-a-like to their paper ones made from a ‘recyclable’ plastic. As an incentive to bring it in for a refill, (the Starbucks baristas will wash it out with boiling water for you), customers receive ten-cents off their drink.
Sounds pretty cool to me. Starbucks has created an incentive for coffee lovers to reduce the amount of material wasted by creating reusable cups, and making them more affordable than the $7 stainless steel coffee mugs they sell in their stores and on-line.
More Questions than Starbucks is Answering
Time to give Starbucks a pat on the back for their green marketing and green design efforts? Should we applaud Starbucks for these reusable plastic cups and thank them for being a leader in sustainability? (Enter science nerd side of me stage left). Not so fast!….I’ve got more questions than Starbucks’ website seems to be answering.
What about all the energy needed to create these reusable cups? Are we just wasting more energy to create these rather than continue to sip from the single-use disposable paper cups? (How many paper cups does one need to avoid before offsetting the impacts of the plastic?)
Chances are, Starbucks regulars like me are going to wash these cups in the dishwasher (top shelf). This will require a lot of energy, soap and hot water (ditto for washing in the sink). How does this compare to the environmental impacts of a disposable paper cup?
As emblazoned on the cups, they are ‘recyclable*’ with an asterisk — noting that they are not recyclable in all areas. So chances are they will wind up in landfills where they’ll likely sit for 500 years. Will Starbucks take them back for recycling? I didn’t see any signage or recycling bins to that effect.
I’ve heard these reusable plastic cups are produced in China, so I’m wondering if they are traveling further than the throwaway paper cups – producing more greenhouse gases in the process.
To date, despite checking their website, asking the Starbucks baristas, and perusing other reports, I have not been able to find answers to my questions. Until I do, I’m sticking with my stainless steel coffee mug for my caffeine boost fill-ups (and I still get the ten-cents off).
What do you think – does this reusable and recyclable plastic cup really help to cut down on waste or not? Is it good green marketing — or simply greenwash? Or perhaps somewhere in-between?