Thursday, November 29, 2007


Occasionally I write to companies that give extraordinary service or experiences. I also frequently write to companies who give appalling service or experiences or companies that I feel are doing something fundamentally wrong or hypocritical. I feel this is my duty as a consumer. I mean, if a restaurant's management doesn't KNOW that their waitress is a total bitch to customers, which gives that company a bad reputation and in turn causes the establishment to lose business, then someone ought to tell them, right? I am not trying to get anyone fired, I'm just a secret, secret shopper only the company isn't paying me to "shop." (Dammit.)

This summer, I wrote to Starbucks. (Among others.)

One morning before work, I stopped at Starbucks on my way to work. The line was nearly out the door and every table was occupied. I'm sure this is a normal thing for Starbucks- I mean my coffee is consistently the same. Every time I go there. Unfortunately, every table had at least one paper cup with that proud green logo on it and not one person in that line was carrying their own mug except for me. There must have been 40 paper cups being used in that particular Starbucks JUST during the time I was there.

I know, I know- you are thinking, "How petty is this complaint, Nicole?" (I proudly accept the title of Recycle Nazi by the way- I'm the one taking used Starbucks cups out of the trash, removing the paper cozy and putting it in the recycle bin.) But these enormous corporations have the opportunity to make the largest impact solely because they are so large. Starbucks could not tell me how many cups of coffee they sell or how many cups they actually use in a day, so I can't give you any accurate data here. But there ARE more than 13,000 Starbucks worldwide (11,000 in the US as of February 2007). You do the math. That's a lotta friggin' waste, people.

The problem I see is that Starbucks doesn't offer reusable ceramic mugs. If you purchase one cup of coffee every day in a disposable container, you create about 23 pounds of waste each year. You can't recycle those "soiled" paper cups, only the cozy! This could be solved by asking one simple question, Mr. or Mrs. Starbucks: Did you want that for here or to go?

I'm sure Starbucks treats their employees well. (I've heard they even pay for health insurance.) Their employees always seem to be friendly, so I'm definitely not complaining about the service. A friend of mine used to work at Starbucks and says they don't even do anything with their coffee grounds- and they brew new coffee EVERY 15 MINUTES, no matter how much of the previous brew has been sold. And, she says, they barely even recycle.

The following is an excerpt from Starbucks Environmental Mission Statement. (Not to be confused with Starbucks' MISSION STATEMENT which contains eight items including "Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.")

Starbucks is committed to a role of environmental leadership in all facets of our business. We fulfill this mission by a commitment to:

•Understanding of environmental issues and sharing information with our partners.
•Developing innovative and flexible solutions to bring about change.
•Striving to buy, sell and use environmentally friendly products.
•Recognizing that fiscal responsibility is essential to our environmental future.
•Instilling environmental responsibility as a corporate value.
•Measuring and monitoring our progress for each project.
•Encouraging all partners to share in our mission.

...and from Starbucks "Environmental Fact Sheet":
Starbucks Support Center:
Starbucks considers recyclability, reusability and recycled content in its purchasing decisions. Efforts are aimed at reducing
packaging, and Starbucks has set a target of 30 percent post-consumer content in all paper purchases.
Retail: Reusing and Recycling
Starbucks offers a $0.10 discount to customers who bring in their own commuter mug. In 2003, customers used their own mugs 13.5 million times, which prevented more than 586,000 pounds of paper waste from reaching landfills. Starbucks seeks to recycle cardboard boxes, milk jugs and other waste products where commercial recycling facilities exist.

The following is the letter I wrote to Starbucks:

It seems to me that your mission statement and environmental mission statement would be honored best if you offered your customers their coffee to drink "for here" (or to go.) By this I mean you should offer to serve your coffee in reusable mugs that Starbucks owns and rewashes. I think it's great that you give 10 cents off of personal mugs, but I don't believe that has gone far enough in the environmentally conscious direction. I don't know how many cups of coffee you serve everyday, but there seems to be a Starbucks at every other corner everywhere I go here in the US and I always see tables OCCUPIED AT your Starbucks, which means that thousands, perhaps millions of PAPER CUPS and PLASTIC LIDS as well as PAPER CUP COZIES could be spared EVERYDAY. While I appreciate that these things may be recycled or made from recycled products, again, you could go farther and do a whole lot better for the environment. Do you know how many drinks you serve in paper cups daily, nationwide? Please consider saving about 1/4 of the waste your company creates by doing this simple, environmentally friendly thing...

Thank you.

...and the response I got, 17 days later:

Hello Nicole,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company with your questions regarding our recycling efforts.

Starbucks is committed to protecting and improving the environment, and is continually pursuing opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle our waste products where commercial facilities exist. Most of our retail store recycling is conducted "behind the scenes" in the back room (boxes, milk jugs, etc.). If you are not certain that recycling is taking place in a store, please ask a store manager; he/she can explain what we are doing, what is recyclable in the local area, and what the landlord will allow for waste disposal. One of our challenges is that some parts of the country can process more recyclable materials than others. We are working with a recycling subcontractor to locate local recycling facilities to process materials generated from each store.

In addition to our retail stores, recycling programs exist in our other facilities, including Starbucks Support Center, our global headquarters in Seattle, and our roasting plants in Kent, Washington; York, Pennsylvania; and Carson Valley, Nevada. Additionally, we consider recylability, reusability and recycled content in our paper and packaging purchases to reduce our impact on the environment. Last year, Starbucks paper products contained 26% post consumer recycled content. We have targeted 30% post-consumer content for all future paper purchases.

On the waste reduction side, we are focused on encouraging reuse of coffee grounds by packaging them and giving them to customers to use as a soil amendment in their gardens. We also offer customers a 10 cent discount each time they use their commuter mug to enjoy their Starbucks beverage. Last year, our customers used their own mugs 13.5 million times, which prevented 586,800 pounds of paper waste from reaching landfills. Reusing coffee grounds and the commuter mug discount complement our recycling efforts because they help to minimize the amount of waste that is produced in each store.

Please know that we appreciate your comments and that we take our responsibility to the environment very seriously. Your concerns will be forwarded to our utility specialist, who manages in-store recycling for North America. If you have additional questions or comments, please contact us at or call 1-800-235-2883 to speak directly with a customer relations representative.

Thank you again for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

Marian L.

No thank you Marian L. ROBOT! I wonder how many letters they get with my same complaint? It must be a common one- this is a well-crafted auto response! Copy-paste, copy-paste...

If YOU feel the need to let Star*ucks know how you feel, please send your letter to:

Starbucks Customer Relations
PO Box 3717
Seattle, WA 98124-3717

Or fill out an online comment form at:
You can also give them a call at the phone number above.

Perhaps the issue here is partially our fault as consumers- we have no excuse NOT to bring our own reuseable mugs if Starbucks refuses to supply them (I'm sure they aren't struggling financially), so I guess this blog/letter is partly for you, my friends. If you are a coffee drinker, surely you OWN a commuter mug. Why aren't you using it?

Save the Earth- bring your OWN mug!

PS- I don't know of ONE locally owned coffee shop that only uses disposable cups...

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At 10:52 PM, December 24, 2007, Blogger cc said...

those paper cups might not be recyclable (I wouldn't dare contradict a recycling nazi, though Yamhill county will accept them for recycling) but they are compostable -- a worm bin can reduce it to nothing within a month, especially if you chip it up ahead of time. :)

At 11:21 AM, December 26, 2007, Blogger aluminumbradley said...

I think if people didn't go to starbucks they would save a lot of money period. - Andrewbot

At 6:48 PM, February 23, 2008, Blogger Webly said...

We should hang out because I think I know something about this that you'd find humorous...


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