Starbucks pledges £7m to develop coffee cup solutions

Starbucks has declared a "moon shot for sustainability" by unveiling a £7m funding challenge to develop recyclable and compostable coffee cups, as well as agreeing to new "bean to cup" traceability technology to improve sourcing practices.

The coffee retailer has committed £7m in partnership with Closed Loop Partners and its Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks is aiming to develop a global solution that stops plastic-lined paper coffee cups being sent to landfill, by either giving them a second life as another cup or other recycled content.

“Our store partners proudly pour sustainably sourced coffee in our 28,000 locations around the world, but everyone wants to take our ability to serve it sustainably to the next level,” Starbuck’s vice president of global impact Colleen Chapman said.

“No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition.”

The consortium will launch a NextGen Cup Challenge to offer accelerator grants to start-ups that have prototypes for compostable or recyclable cups. Starbucks paper cups are currently manufactured with 10% post-consumer recycled fibre, but the industry is struggling to improve recyclability of cups.

The reason that coffee cups are so difficult to recycle is because they are sealed with a polyethylene (plastic) lining on the interior. This lining – which is used in both Costa and Starbucks cups – is bonded tightly to the paper to prevent it from going soggy, but polyethylene can’t be recycled along with ordinary paper waste by local councils. In the UK, 5,000 coffee cups are discarded each minute, but less than 1% of these are actually recycled.

Starbucks has revealed that it will trial a 5p charge across select London stores and has expressed an interest in partnering to develop innovative solutions. Speaking to edie in December, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs Simon Redfern claimed there was no “competitive leverage” to be gained by failing to work with rival brands to tackle ongoing waste issues regarding paper coffee cups and the wider use of plastics.

Starbucks accounts for around 1% of the 600 billion paper and plastic coffee cups that are distributed globally each year.

Bean to cup traceability

In related news, Starbucks has announced the launch of a new pilot programme with coffee farmers in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda to develop new data technology that logs, tracks and shares real-time information of coffee beans as they travel through the supply chain.

The traceability technology will be used to improve “bean to cup” transparency for Starbucks, which ethically sources 99% of its coffee – leaving the remaining 1% to allow for growth in new regions. Starbucks worked with more than 380,000 farms last year.

“Over the next two years, we will look to demonstrate how technology and innovative data platforms can give coffee farmers even more financial empowerment,” the company’s chief executive Kevin Johnson said. “We’ll leverage an open-source approach to share what we learn with the rest of the world.”

Matt Mace

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