Thursday, January 3, 2008

Seattle's Best Coffee Turns Away Reusables

For the second time in two flights on AirTran from Sarasota, FL to National Airport, my trip took at least an hour longer than it was supposed to. With a longer-than-expected layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I grabbed my reusable mug and set off in search of coffee.

Even The Green Miles knows he’s not going to find organic or fair trade coffee in an airport, so I stopped at Seattle’s Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks. I held my mug out to the cashier and asked her to fill it with regular.

“I can’t do that,” she said. “It’s store policy. I can only sell you coffee in one of our paper cups.”

Unfortunately, I’m no longer surprised by this answer. I’ve had trouble using my reusable mug at two different Dunkin Donuts locations. I checked with Starbucks, which owns Seattle's Best, and they said it's up to individual franchises to decide whether to accept reusable mugs or not.

Every year, Americans drink more than 100 billion cups of coffee. Of those, 14.4 billion are served in disposable paper cups— enough to wrap the earth 55 times if placed end-to-end. Those paper cups contain a plastic lining made from a petrochemical that would produce enough energy to heat 8,300 homes. The plastic makes them impossible to recycle or compost.

You’d think Starbucks would do better since they’re so often accused of greenwashing. While Starbucks coffee cups are made with 10% post-consumer recycled content, they all end up in the trash - 2.3 billion of them every year.

The Starbucks website hosts an extensive corporate social responsibility policy, but it’s long on study and short on commitments. The chain is working with the US Green Building Council to establish LEED standards for the retail sector … but doesn’t say it’s actually committing to making any its stores meet those standards. While Starbucks purchases the equivalent of 20% of its in-store energy use in renewable power, it’s been incredibly slow to embrace fair trade, organic, or shade-grown coffee (respectively, 6%, 4% and 1% of its total coffee purchases).

Even its recognition of global warming is wishy-washy. “Climate change is believed to be the greatest environmental threat of our generation.” (emphasis mine)

The actual Starbucks chain gives a 10 cent discount for reusable coffee mugs. While that discount was given 17 million times in 2006, that’s less than one percent of the 2.3 billion paper cups Starbucks served that year. And reusable mug use actually dropped from 2005 levels. I’ve said before that a 10 cent discount won’t change people’s behavior, and Starbucks is unfortunately proving me right. That long corporate social responsibility policy says nothing about trying to reverse the trend in falling reusable usage.


James Young said...

"You’d think Starbucks would do better since they’re so often accused of greenwashing."

Or you might just think Starbucks is populated by a bunch of sanctimonious, self-important, hypocritical boobs.

Or you might think that the crypto-Socialist environmentalist wackos won't be satisfied until we're back living in caves.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to live in a cave. (?) Very odd.

I do however support cutting down on unnecessary waste. You don't use a disposable cup at home every time you get something to drink so why not think about reusing a mug when you are grabbing a cup of coffee out and about. What's so crazy about that?

Googla Monster said...

It's probably a sanitation matter.

Anonymous said...

All coffee shops should use ceramic mugs for those consuming in the shop, and charge an additional say 50 cents per paper cup leaving the store. Starbucks does not want to have to pay their "partners" (i.e. employees) to wash the mugs, but that is what they should be doing.

The mostly older teens and twenty something Starbucks barristas I am sure would support mugs. Most of them make only about $8-9 per hour, parttime. Starbucks squeezes every penny out of its "partners" and its customers, so I doubt they would switch to mugs easily.

I am trying to get my Arlington church to stop using styrafom cups, but they cost only maybe ten percent of the paper cups so meeeting resistance.

Anonymous said...

I go to starbucks everday and use one of their porceline mug. They ask me every day if I would like it for here or to go.

Anonymous said...
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Revolutionary Mama said...

I have written posts similar to this one on my blog (

Starbucks stores are all corporate owned and should ALL accept reusable mugs. However, some airport and college campus locations are licensed stores and not company owned. Those guys kinda suck anyway.

I agree wit you that reusable is always the way to go. I even bring my own pyrex containers into restaurants so I can refuse their styrofoam to-go containers. That gets a funny look most of the time.

Keep up the fight!

Anonymous said...

so i'm sitting here drinking seattle's best coffee out of a paper cup (i know, i'm a bad person)

the cup reads "contributing to a healthy environment," so i googled seattle's best to try to figure out how they contribute to a healthy environment

what i have concluded is that starbucks and seattle's best are doing as little as possible to protect the environment

i can't help but wonder what would happen if all the money spent on greenwashing was used to actually help the environment

shouldn't the laws regarding truth in advertising should require a certain dollar amount to be spent on the environment for every dollar a company spends advertising that they help the environment?

Unknown said...

I think it is always a great idea to use reusable mugs but I can understand why a reputable company would not want to draw attention to their business with stories about how some bacterial infection links back to their franchise. I know this sounds hypocritical, especially since every Starbucks I go to has awful bathrooms and take back drinks (that you touched, sipped) if they were not made to order.

Someone should consider doing a study on the hygienic effects, throughout the seasons, of serving coffee to a person in his own mug. In the mean time, people should lobby for Coffee shops to serve customers who wish to sit-down with ceramic mugs (like the type Starbucks sells in their own store!). They can do so by frequenting places that already have such practices. I can name quite a few In D.C., Syracuse, and NYC that serve me in mugs that I choose to go to over the Starbucks down the street.