I was in a Starbucks in downtown Vancouver this past weekend, buying a snack for my kids. I wasn’t buying a coffee for myself, as I’d made my own coffee at home and was drinking out of my stainless steel travel cup. As I ponied up to the register to pay for a slice of banana bread, the young man behind the cash register tried to enlighten me on the subject of Starbucks’ new reusable, $1 plastic cup. The premise behind the cup is that customers pay $1 for this reusable cup (with lid), then the cup can be used 10 times and is to be recycled within 30 days. The cup and lid are themselves made of polypropylene plastic (#5). Starbucks’ suggestion is that these cups can be recycled at the local level, and that their use will limit the demand for customers who like to drink their hot beverages from double-layered paper cups, hence further limiting Starbucks paper waste.
My first reaction to hearing about this product was outright horror.
I pointed out to the barista that I already carried my own stainless steel cup with me (and have done for the past two years), as I enjoyed using it and preventing further waste as I visited Starbucks. The barista countered that the concept of reducing paper cup waste was “amazing,” and that the fact that this reusable cup was inexpensive meant that it would appeal to a broad number of people. He further stated that this idea was a “great step for the Starbucks company,” as it would reduce the amount of waste Starbucks produced.
I was agog.
Sure, in premise, the concept of a cup that can be used 10 times is of greater environmental benefit than a cup that is used simply once. However, when things are inexpensive (like for example a $1 cup), we are more likely to construe them to be disposable and we are less likely to be dispose of them in a considerable manner. Sadly, Starbucks does not seem to recognize that not only will people purchase this plastic cup and then forget to bring it for subsequent uses, but that in all likelihood, these cups will end up in the trash more often than they will end up being appropriately recycled.
If we think of all the plastic, “throw-away” things in the world that are available to us, isn’t this plastic cup from Starbucks just another one of them? Why isn’t the suggestion of adding plastic to the waste stream on such a large scale offensive? While the goal of reducing paper waste is commendable for any company, to simply replace the paper waste with plastic waste is extremely short-sighted and frankly, abhorrent.
I’m going to continue to use my stainless steel, reusable travel mug whenever I frequent my local Starbucks. How about you?