Recycling System of Reusable Cups 5 pages

Recycling System of Reusable Cups for Starbucks Corporation in New York City

The “Big Apple” may not be in imminent danger of sinking under a mountain of trash, but New York City is faced with some profound challenges as it seeks to reduce the amount of consumer waste entering the waste stream each day. A major contributor to the waste stream in New York City is the coffee cups used by Starbucks Corporation in its hundreds of outlets. To help address this problem, this study presents a recycling system of reusable cups for Starbucks coffee shops in New York City. To this end, an assessment of the problem is followed by an analysis of bamboo’s suitability as a recyclable alternative. A graphic representation of the proposed replacement cup is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

This project is based on the large international coffee corporation, Starbucks, but the concept could be easily promoted among other coffee and beverage vendors as well. This project is also timely and important because the coffee shop giant has stated a corporate goal to reduce waste and improve its recycling in general and particularly for its ubiquitous coffee cups. According to the company’s Web site, “Starbucks is committed to significantly reducing the waste our stores generate – especially when it comes to recycling. We know this is important to our customers, to us and our planet. In fact, we get more customer comments about recycling than any other environmental issue – especially when it comes to our cups.”

Based on the results of an original survey conducted for the purposes of this project, and the results of a series of interviews concerning consumers’ daily coffee habits found that that most people really want to recycle if there is a convenient system available for this purpose. These findings are congruent with other studies that have shown that over the past 20 years or so, recycling programs across the country have reduced the amount of materials entering the waste stream. For instance, Imhoff notes that, “Up to 100 million Americans, in fact, recycle every day.”

To its credit, Starbucks recognizes the waste problem generated by the millions of paper cups its consumers use everyday. For example, the corporation also emphasizes that, “Over the years, our white cup has become an icon and an integral part of the coffeehouse experience. At the same time, it has become a major concern among our customers due to recycling challenges. In order to respond to customers and minimize our carbon footprint, we’re aiming to ensure 100% of our cups are reusable or recyclable by 2015.”

In other to achieve this ambitious goal, Starbucks will need a viable alternative to its existing cups, a need that forms the basis of this study.

The need for such a recyclable coffee cup is great. According to Imhoff, nationally, “Consumers alone throw away more than 60 billion cups, 20 billion eating utensils, and 15 billion plates [each year]” (emphasis added).

Although the New York City Department of Sanitation operates the nation’s largest recycling program,

New York City’s estimated population of 8,400,000

(Population, 2010) residents means that waste disposal is a monumental daily enterprise. Although firm totals are not available (the Starbucks’ Web site only provides the first 50 locations for its outlets in New York City), there are an estimated 270 outlets in New York City alone.

Assuming 500 customers a day for each of these locations (a conservative estimate), this means that there are at least 135,000 Starbucks coffee cups added to the New York City waste stream each day, for around 50 million cups per year. Moreover, this conservative estimate does not take into account the other packaging materials that are routinely used by these coffee store outlets, such as cup holders, sacks, utensils and so forth. Clearly, Starbucks needs a recyclable coffee cup today rather than by 2015 and this alternative could be made available using the bamboo-based cup described further below.

Fast-growing, hearty and versatile, bamboo is an excellent choice for recyclable coffee cups.

For example, according to one company specializing in using bamboo, “Bamboo is not a tree — it’s a grass, and it grows like one. Many species of bamboo can grow two feet or more a day. When it’s harvested, it need not be replanted, because it will grow a new shoot from its extensive root system. Bamboo is an endlessly renewable resource.”

Besides the foregoing attributes, bamboo also “sequesters excess nitrogen and helps to mitigate water pollution. It does not require chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and is less prone to allergic reaction.”

Furthermore, bamboo-based recyclable paper products “almost always uses less water and energy, and result in fewer toxic by-products, than working with virgin materials [and] totally chlorine-free bleaching technologies are superior in nearly every category to chlorine-based techniques for papermaking.”

In addition, bamboo is good for the environment in other ways. For instance, the plant generates 30% more oxygen than trees, reduces rain run-off that contributes to soil erosion and can grow to more than 100 feet tall.

Bamboo-based paper products can also help reduce the deforestation that is occurring around the world by providing a viable alternative to wood.

In fact, Cali Bamboo emphasize that bamboo “can regenerate and be harvested 5 to 20 times faster than traditional sources of lumber and other wood products.”

Taken together, the foregoing attributes indicate that bamboo represents an excellent choice for Starbuck’s stated corporate goal of replacing its existing cups with recyclables by the year 2015. The versatility of bamboo also means that the material could even by used for the other packaging materials routinely used by Starbucks, including sacks and cup holders, and the material could even be used for constructing the recycling bins that Starbucks in placing in front of all of its stores across the country. The substitution of bamboo for its current paper-based cups would also provide Starbucks with some valuable consumer goodwill, and the fact that the corporation is using bamboo as a recyclable material could even be featured on the cups themselves as illustrated in the proposed replacement cup illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Proposed Bamboo-Based Recyclable Coffee Cup for Starbucks

Depending on their condition after disposal by Starbucks’ consumers, the bamboo-based recyclable cups could be recycled into new cups or, if they were in satisfactory condition, the durability properties of bamboo mean that they could even be washed several times and reused in this fashion. According to Imhoff, this makes bamboo a particularly intelligent choice for Starbuck’s coffee cups because “a durable, reusable package is preferable to a recyclable or disposable one.”

Starbucks could also implement a recycling center in Bronx, which is a practical approach because the corporation already collects washable materials from its outlets in New York City and takes them to Bronx for washing (pers. knowl.).


The research showed that Starbucks Corporation is a major presence in New York City, and millions of consumers enjoy their products each year. The research also showed that the materials being used for Starbucks’ current coffee cups and other packaging materials and utensils represent an enormous contributor to the city’s waste stream, with tens of millions of coffee cups entering the waste stream annually. The corporation has stated its intentions to replace its existing coffee cups with recyclable versions by 2015, and is actively engaged in research and development to achieve this goal. Finally, the research was consistent in showing that bamboo-based paper products are an ideal alternative for this purpose because the plant is the fastest-growing in the world, produces more oxygen and consumes more carbon dioxide than comparable amounts of trees. Bamboo is also environmentally friendly in other ways by reducing soil erosion and its durability means that it can be reused several times before it is recycled. All in all, bamboo-based coffee cups and other packaging materials will provide Starbucks and similarly situated companies with a viable alternative that will help reduce the impact that these materials have on the environment, and will provide the corporation with valuable consumer good will.


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Starbucks in New York City. (2010). Starbuck Everywhere. Retrieved from http://www.

Why bamboo? (2010). EcoDesignz. Retrieved from


Recycling & reducing waste. (2010). Starbucks Corporation. Retrieved from / responsibility/environment/recycling.

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Imhoff, p. 9.

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Population. (2010). New York City Department of Planning. Retrieved from / census/popcur.shtml.

Starbucks in New York City. (2010). Starbuck Everywhere. Retrieved from / NewYorkCity.htm.

Santos, M.A. (2009). Achieving sustainable competitive advantage through the implementation of the societal marketing concept by a major retailer in South Africa. Journal of Global Business and Technology, 5(2), p. 39.

Why bamboo? (2010). EcoDesignz. Retrieved from

Natural alternatives to cotton. (2007, April). New Internationalist, 399, p. 16.

Imhoff, p. 9.

Bamboo — the perfect renewable resource. (2009). Retrieved from http://green-ecoliving. com/bamboo-the-perfect-renewable-resource.

Belger, M. (2007, November 5). The wonders of bamboo. Green is Universal. Retrieved from

Interesting facts about bamboo. (n.d.). Cali Bamboo. Retrieved from / media_kit/Cali_Bamboo_Bamboo_Facts.pdf.

Imhoff, p. 9.

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