Environmentalists target Starbucks cups in SoDo action

An eight foot high wall of disposable Starbucks cups lined the street in front of the company's SoDo headquarters on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
An eight foot high wall of disposable Starbucks cups lined the street in front of the company’s SoDo headquarters on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)

Traffic through SoDo had a view Thursday morning. Cars slowed down to check out the massive 11 by 85-foot wall of cups floating in front of the Starbucks headquarters.

About a dozen protesters from environmental group Stand.earth hung 8,181 disposable paper cups along First Avenue to demand that the coffee giant use more easily recyclable cups. That number is no random figure either — according to Sierra Klingele, the Seattle organizer for Stand.earth, that’s the number of disposable cups thrown away every minute globally.

Stand.earth volunteer Kaya Axelsson adds another cup to the more than 8000 hung in the early morning action. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
Stand.earth volunteer Kaya Axelsson adds another cup to the more than 8000 hung in the early morning action. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)

In 2008 Starbucks said that by 2015 it would use only 100 percent recyclable cups.

According to Stand, most recyclers won’t take the cups Starbucks uses because of the plastic coating. While Seattle is one of the few cities that can compost the polyethylene lining, most cups will end up in the trash even when consumers opt to place them in the recycling bin.  

The Stand.earth Better Cup campaign is asking Starbucks to recommit to 100 percent cups that are recyclable with existing recycling technology and standard paper. Ninety percent of the paper in four billion cups the company uses each year comes from forests, is used once and then trashed. Stand is also asking for Starbucks to recommit to 25 percent cup reuse, the goal the company set for itself in 2008 (they’ve since revised that goal to five percent reusable mugs). Today only two percent of Starbucks coffee is served in reusable mugs.

Alec Connon surveys the Stand.earth team's progress. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
Alec Connon surveys the Stand.earth team’s progress. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)

“We have made a commitment and have never wavered from our efforts to make our cup recyclable…What is recyclable varies significantly by municipality and sometimes even by store, and we pay local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost and trash,” read a statement provided to the Globalist from Starbucks corporate PR in response to the action. “We’re proud of the progress we’ve made, have annually reported and consistently shared our success and our challenges, and will continue to advocate to key policymakers and do even more within the industry to address the issue.”

On their website, the company cites “a patchwork of recycling infrastructure and market conditions” among the challenges to getting cups recycled. But the Stand.earth activists still seem to believe they can do better.

In the meantime, more than 10 million cups are going to waste each day, and that is some grim news for Mother Nature.

Stand.earth Seattle coordinator Sierra Klingele holds a copy of "Super Mermaid" a satirical comic book distributed by Stand at Emerald City ComicCon as part of the campaign. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
Stand.earth Seattle coordinator Sierra Klingele holds a copy of “Super Mermaid” a satirical comic book distributed by Stand at Emerald City ComicCon as part of the campaign. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
Wall of cups. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)
Wall of cups. (Photo by Esmy Jimenez)

This post was produced as part of the Globalist Youth Apprenticeship program. The program is funded in part by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Community Technology Fund.

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2 Comments

  1. Isn’t is a little ironic that these demonstrators used 8,181 pristine new cups rather than reusing discarded ones! Doesn’t that make them part of the problem?

    1. Nmoir: Lets take a moment to think … where most starbucks consumers will sip and toss their cup these 8,181 cups (the number tossed per minute by starbucks consumers) are being used to confront the industry in its greenwashing efforts and ultimately make starbucks a better company. Nope, not part of the problem, quite the opposite.

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