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Opinion
Adam Minter

Why Starbucks Won't Recycle Your Cup

Good intentions don’t turn used Starbucks cups into new ones, profit motives do. And for now, there’s no money in it.
Starbucks's recycling plans, kicked to the curb. Photographer: James Leynse/Corbis
Starbucks's recycling plans, kicked to the curb. Photographer: James Leynse/Corbis

When you drop that used white paper cup into the bin next to the door at a Starbucks, have you done your part to save the planet? Starbucks has long hoped that you would think so. After all, there's no better way to attract an affluent, eco-conscious clientele than to convince customers that your disposable product is "renewable." So, in 2008 the coffee company announced that by 2015 it would offer recycling at all company-operated branches.

That seemed like the least that Starbucks -- which sells 4 billion disposable cups a year -- could do. The coffee giant has the financial wherewithal to install gold-plated recycling bins in all of its stores, if it chose to do so. Yet last week, Starbucks said in its 2013 Global Responsibility Report that it wasn't going to meet its recycling goals in 2015 -- if ever. In fact, five years into its program, the company had only managed to implement customer recycling at 39 percent of its company-operated stores.