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Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners Plan Recyclable, Compostable Cup

Starbucks recyclable and compostable cups
(Photo Credit: Starbucks Corporation)

Starbucks announced a $10 million investment in the Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy that establishes a new consortium for developing fully recyclable and compostable cups. Called the NextGen Cup Challenge, the industry consortium aims to identify and commercialize next-generation cups.

Currently the industry as a whole distributes an estimated 600 billion paper and plastic cups annually, according to the Center for the Circular Economy.

Starbucks says its cups, which account for about 1% of that total, have been manufactured with 10% post-consumer recycled fiber since 2006. The inside has a thin liner designed to prevent leaks. Although the cups are recyclable in some US municipalities like Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, DC, other recycling and composting facilities won’t accept them, due in part to the liners.

While the NextGen Cup Challenge brings entrepreneurs, industry, and recyclers together to find solutions for diverting cups from landfills and give them new lives, Starbucks says its internal research continues. The company’s R&D team recently started a trial of a new bio-liner made partially from plant-based materials.

“The internal trial, expected to take six months, will test not only for environmental impact, but whether the cup’s liner can stand up to stringent safety requirements and quality standards when filled with a hot liquid,” Starbucks says. “This trial marks the 13th internal test of its kind in the last year alone.”

Beyond R&D, the company is also pushing for broader community acceptance for cup recycling and composting. Starbucks says they are working with the National League of Cities’ Sustainable Cities Institute to advocate for model legislation and best practices that make access more widely available, ensuring consistency and reducing confusion about which materials can be recycled or composted in the United States.

Earlier this year, rival chain Dunkin’ Donuts announced the phase-out of polystyrene foam cups, which the company plans to eliminate completely from its global supply chain by 2020. The move is expected to remove nearly 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream annually.

Switching to a more sustainable cup hasn’t been easy. “Finding the right cup has been a challenge from a supply, cost, and guest experience perspective,” a company spokesperson told Environmental Leader in February. Dunkin’ Donuts ultimately found a paper cup with a thin lining.

“Like other paper cups with a poly lining, the recyclability of the paper cup will vary significantly by city, state, and municipality, and is based on the recycling services that are offered,” the spokesperson said.

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