Starbucks’ Naked To-Go Cup Hypocrisy.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Apr 29, 2010
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On a recent Earth Day, Starbucks offered a free coffee to anyone who brought in their own mug.

Greenwashing alert: Did you know: Starbucks serves 99% to-go cups?

I didn’t.

Until Josh Onysko, founder of Pangea Organics, enlightened me to their daily mass-environmental-nonsensical-crimes, recently. He was rightfully going off about how ridiculous it was that they didn’t offer cups for-here. I claimed total ignorance.

Why? Because I haven’t been in one for years. I don’t patronize ’em in airports etc when I’m traveling, either.

I’ve boycotted Starbucks, in fact, since my college days in Boston, when $tarbuck$ swept through even Harvard Square (I went to Boston University, but waited tables in Cambridge) and cleared it of nearly every well-loved indie coffeeshop in a matter of years. With the help of Barnes & Noble (you know, the two team up frequently) the venerable bookstores also began going poof, and even the Harvard COOP was bought up.

But, over the years, I’ve opened up to loving Starbucks, a little, though I still only patronize great local indie coffeeshops (in Boulder, that’s easy—we’ve got one per block, downtown—at least). Starbucks, a few years back, pioneering the 10% recycled content paper to go cup, nearly single-handedly created a market for more eco-responsible to go cups (although all paper to go cups are still lined with plastic, making them neither compostable nor recyclable, and most still involve bleach, which kills our watershed and marine life). Then, Starbucks has been pushing (or, at least, marketing their push regarding) fair-trade coffee. Thing is, apparently, in Starbucks cafes you can’t buy their much-vaunted fair trade coffee to drink on the spot. You can only buy bags of it, or order it online. Still, it’s a step (though many now criticize fair-trade as a essential first step, but not enough to guarantee wages and quality, both. Those critiques push something called Direct Trade, which though wonderful-sounding doesn’t guarantee wages or eco-responsibility. Correct me if I’m wrong?).

My slow conversion to Starbucks’ ever-improving ways is summed up here: It’s Getting Harder to Hate Starbucks.

But then, last week or two, Starbucks marketed the hell out of some “green” initative involving “Bring in your permanent reusable coffee cup, and we’ll give you a free cup of coffee.” For one day. And, of course, word on the street is Starbucks often uses paper cups even if you bring your reusable coffee cup in—you know, so they can measure out the correct amount (then they toss ’em).

Earth Day? Try Greenwashing Day: Starbucks sells that “2.5 billion non-compostable, non-recyclable paper cups each year.”

Your ballsy hypocrisy makes me want to gag, Starbucks:

Join the movement. Bring a reusable travel mug and get a 10 cent discount on any Starbucks beverage, anytime.

One person can save trees, together we can save forests.

For the good of the planet, Starbucks is encouraging everyone to switch from paper cups to reusable travel mugs. One day in March thousands of New Yorkers made the switch. Join them now by taking a pledge to do the same.

Starbucks passion for reducing cup waste did not start with the Green Project. Since 1985, we have offered a discount to customers who bring in a reusable travel mug and will continue doing so. This is just one of the ways we are fulfilling our commitment to environmental stewardship while we work towards a long-term goal of 100% reusable or recyclable cups by 2015. To learn more, visit our Starbucks Shared Planet goals and progress.


Join the Facebook Page:

You know why Starbucks doesn’t have recycling bins in their stores? Because the 2.7 billion — yes, with a B — paper cups they serve each year are non-recyclable. Every venti mocha and grande latte goes directly from your mouth to landfill.

Starbucks has pledged to switch to 100% recyclable cups, but they say they just can’t get it done until 2015.

We say that’s a big, fat, lazy lie.

And way too long to wait. Eco-friendly hot cups, including compostable cups, exist TODAY.

In fact, Tully’s Coffee has been providing compostable cups to customers since 2007!

Starbucks should prove their dedication to environmental stewardship by switching to recyclable or compostable cups by the end of 2010.

You have a voice. If we all demand this change at the same time, Starbucks will have to listen.


If we make enough noise (twitter, facebook wall, emails) we can change the Starbucks Status Quo that is dumping billions of cups each year into our landfills.

In 2003, Playboy did an issue entitled the Women of Starbucks: Warning, Contents REALLY Hot that has nothing to do whatsoever with this article…except that this article is also about Starbucks, and without “Naked” Hypocrisy in the title and image, it would get the usual 100 clicks. 100 clicks ain’t gonna change anything about Starbucks’ behavior. 1,000 probably won’t, either. But 1,000 might inspire a few others to post their own blogs, which might add up to 10,000, which might inspire more and start an inspiration bonfire that might ignite Starbucks’ corporate conscience.

Like PETA (you know, the animal-defenders behind I’d Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur campaigns and the like), we’re deciding more and more that you can’t effect change if no one pays attention.

Let’s inspire Starbucks to become eco-responsible, and offer for-here cups, and compostable/recyclable paper cups!

Picture 603

Via Youtube:

natashatsakos — April 23, 2010 — I really love Starbucks, but here’s something I’d like to change:

According to Wikipedia there are:
16,635 Starbucks stores in 49 countries
more than 800 in Japan
nearly 1,000 in Canada
11,068 in the United States

Estimating 300 customers per store a day
this means 4,990,500 cups are being dispensed every day.

Thats 1,821,532,500 paper cups a year.

If 50 customers a day in every store were to use reusable mugs,
it would save 150,000 disposable paper cups daily.
Or 1.7 million pounds of paper
3.7 million pounds of solid waste
and 150,000 trees a year.

If Starbucks decided to recycle in their stores,
it would be HUGE.

Enjoy the animation
use the bulletin board to petition
And spread the word


Ask your local Starbucks to recycle
Call Starbucks and ask them to recycle their paper & plastic
Bring a reusable mug
Share this video

A short animation by Natasha Tsakos
3D Animators: Okiemute Inweh & Sean Brissett Jr.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


38 Responses to “Starbucks’ Naked To-Go Cup Hypocrisy.”

  1. Adam says:

    And if their employees are using paper cups to measure, they should be fired. How can you be that stupid? Every single resuable cup Starbucks sells has the ounce capacity written on the bottom. Most other cups do as well. Or, you could always just fucking estimate, and the worst that could happen would be that you were off by 2 ounces. Jesus H Rodriguez that's dumb.

    This company makes steps in the right directions, but they need to work a hell of a lot harder to be as environmentally friendly as they brand themselves as.

  2. Adam says:

    The whole wasted cup business reminds me of a TED talk i watched recently

  3. Claire Lochridge says:

    I watched the TED talk too—unbelievable information about the amount of waste we create with to go cups…410,000 are wasted every 15 minutes in the US, and 40 million a day!

  4. Great info, Adam, with thanks! Sadly, fact remains is that 0% of those 23 Billion paper cups are recyclable, though it's great to hear that there were recycle bins for plastic, glass, paper in Washington. We oughta get you to write an article!

    And, sad fact remains that almost no one orders off the menu, like you said. Would be great to have fair-trade coffee on the menu, I know the "Whole Foods demographic" would be more open to spending our green.

  5. I've heard a lot about having to measure the shots exactly to protect profits. But would love to hear more from former employees, if that's true.

  6. Great story you wrote, Claire–just posted it on

  7. Adam says:

    I would like that. When it comes to Starbucks, there is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Unfortunately, most eco-concious consumers only hear about the bad, and the yuppie soccer moms only care to hear about the good.

  8. Jaym says:


    Out of ALL companies out there, Starbucks does AMAZING things- and far, far more for the environment than any other businesses.

    It’s untrue that if you use a bring in cup they measure with paper- I go everyday, and watch them make it- no paper used.

    Plus, their paper is massively high post-consumer recycled. There’s a limit to how much something can be reused before breaking down.

    For the world’s best coffee (and it is) that’s often cheaper than the smaller shops (here at MSU we have Biggby’s challenging them, and they cost more, serve less, and charge more for an iced drink than they do a non-iced drink), Starbucks firmly goes in the category of “Good Guys”.

    Big business is normally evil (Walmart)- Starbucks is benevolent.

    And no, I don’t work for them. Though I would if I didn’t have anxiety disorder- proudly!

  9. Great info, Jaym. The reports of them measuring shots out in paper cups, then tossing them, are many—but I'd be glad to be wrong.

    The cups are 10% post-consumer recycled, not "massively"…still, I agree, it's a great start, and which I've given Starbucks props for in the past (I linked to their many accomplishments above, under my article "It's getting Harder to Hate Starbucks." And remember those paper cups have plastic lining—not great for us, I'm sure, with hot liquids in 'em—but assuredly making them not recyclable or compostable.

    23 Billion cups, if that's an accurate figure, is an annual eco-irresponsibility of criminal proportions.

  10. Adam says:

    I think the 23 billion is total for all coffee consumption in the US, not just the 'bucks. Regardless, they produce far more than anyone (except maybe McDonalds? I dunno). Again, every store I worked in and have ever visited offered for here ceramic wear. But again, you have to ask. It's never offered. There may be some inconspicous signs around the store pointing in that direction, but no one sees them.

  11. Iris Sela says:

    OK, I'm no Starbucks lover. (I prefer Folsom St. and OZO.) BUT, I did used to work at Starbucks, and they certainly DO have regular, reusable ceramic and glass cups (for iced drinks). You just have to say, "for here." Ironic that nobody thought to ask, huh?

    Still, billions of bleached, mostly virgin fiber, non-recyclable and non-compostable cups have go to GO. No excuses for the self-righteous mega-chain. Zero. Zip. Nevertheless, disposable is not the answer. REUSABLE is. We need to shift our focus. Own a stainless steel coffee mug and your set for (almost) life. And don't just do it for the (GASP) 10-cent discount!

  12. EcoYogini says:

    Yep, I am not a regular Starbucks customer (I tend to go to a local fair trade organic roaster) BUT they do have reusable mugs available- and I've drank at starbucks in five different provinces across the country (NS, NB, Qc, BC, AB). Maybe Canada is different magically? (lol, right).

    However, they don't push reusable mugs. ever.

    also- they might use post consumer recycled paper, but it's usually on 30% recycled. wow. for the number of cups thrown in the landfill in an anaerobic environment, I truly don't think that's enough.

    Starbucks also claims to have a 'SharedPlanet' project where they offer equitable coffee. I'm pretty sure it's not Fair Trade certified- they have their 'own' certification label…. (ahem).

    They've also been criticized for using billions of gallons of water a day across the globe in their sanitation water system- where those little water wells run from open until close… cuz I guess spoons can't be kept clean any other way.

    Starbucks is definitely not one of the goodguys, and there are many many many other coffee roasters that sell fair trade organic coffee beans that taste much better. And they are better for the Planet. 🙂 I wrote about them here… for a bit more info! 🙂

  13. Andrew Armiger says:

    Great post, bad link.

  14. Tom F
    yeah, they serve only paper cups…but there are far larger problems that need to be addressed.

    the real issue with starbucks is their bullshit "CAFE practices" program that they came up with to use so they don't have to spend money on actual FLO fairtrade certification. whole foods is doing the same thing with their own bullshit certification … See Moreprogram called "whole trade". in both cases, its just self-regulation to sell more products without spending more money – corporate profit model FTW!

    only ~3% of the coffee beans that starbucks sells are actually certified as fair trade, and this is only the pre-bagged whole beans. unless you live in the UK, you can't walk up to the counter and order a cup of FLO certified fair trade coffee.

    they claim they are going to be 100% "fair trade" by 2015, but you need to read the fine print: they're not gong to be 100% FLO fairtrade – they're planning on labeling the remaining non-flo certified beans as "fair trade" using their own internal "CAFE practices" certification system. this is like an auto manufacturer saying their cars passed their own internal safety tests, so they don't need to pay the 3rd parties to perform safety tests. does that make sense?

    since 99.9% of the consumers don't know the difference between any of the certifications, or that starbucks even has its own self-certification program, no one seems to notice that this is all just another bullshit marketing campaign.

    check out this book if you're interested, if you haven't already read it:

    also more information specific to starbucks and how they are deceptive about their fair trade practices:

  15. I'll check it out. I don't think it's a case of folks forgetting to ask, but would loooove to be wrong. Hopefully they now offer for-here options at all locations, would be happy ending to this post.

  16. That number came from the FB page I linked to…probably not the hardest source!

  17. […] statistics presented in Bag It are alarming. Because we are so accustomed to using single-use items for literally a day or even fifteen minutes, we therefore assume that when we do dispose of them , […]

  18. Linda says:

    I asked a friend who is a Starbucks consumer here in Halifax, NS, Canada and he says here Starbucks uses small and medium ceramic cups as they do in Ottawa and Vancouver, if one is having the coffee inside. ( In Vancouver he says many of the outlets there are unionized. ) It's a municipal law for restaurants in Halifax to have the full range of recycling options: paper, plastic, metal for pop cans, and compost. So perhaps Starbucks in the States could do at least as well as Starbucks here.

  19. lizb says:

    i was recently given a gift card to starbucks so i went to get a soy latte on the hill in boulder. I asked if they would mind rinsing out my togo mug that i had brought. they hand me back the mug, then the lid in it's very own brand new paper cup!! needles to say, i freaked out on that poor little college girl, but i bet she won't do that again. either that, or i totally turned her off of environmentalism forever.

  20. Adam says:

    Local health code. This is true in some places. For whatever stupid, draconian reason, they aren't supposed to handle your lid. They can handle the plastic lid they have for the paper cups all they want, but some local health codes prohibit them from touching your lid at all. Pretty stupid, hu? I suppose the common sense action would have been to ask you to hold on to your lid while they filled your mug.

  21. joshua says:

    oh Starbucks,,,,,yes, I used to stop and get my fix when I was in town with now local coffee joint….I always had them french press me some of their organic beans, as they don't ever brew it to serve, until I found Mt Hagen...

    now I just brew on the run…. in Starbucks defense its often they they are still more socially and environmentally more sound then most local places, they offer health care, even for people working part time, which is great for single moms, a benefit that is very hard to come by. They also compost (is some places) …..I'm still looking for the cafe that does it all, fair trade OG coffee, living wages health care, a good incentive plan for reusable mugs, organic milk etc etc… out, I'm planning on opening one in Boulder….if we are going to be progressive, we need to understand the how important it is to be the stewards of the fringe the predicts the future….



  22. Bryn says:

    I'm a dedicated fan of elephant and look forward to your witty articles with each weekly email I receive. However, the inaccuracy of this one really disappoints me.. Starbucks isn't perfect, but please check your facts.
    Be well.

  23. Mullion says:

    paul the octopus is surely the most genuine prophet …!

  24. […] and I have some bad news. The bad news: not all paper cups are recyclable (like those they use at Starbucks). The good news: some of them are, and others are even compostable! In fact, many boulder coffee […]

  25. […] Checking in on the businesses we love to hate. Also: Starbucks’ Naked Hypocrisy. […]

  26. George says:

    Starbucks has a sustainability conundrum: working with really savvy experts like Dr. Peter Senge from MIT, they are working to effectively execute on a shift to systems thinking, and extended producers responsibility.

    Should they have done this a while ago, given their scope and impact? Is their "bring your own cup" campaign greenwashing? Arguably so. Nevertheless, they identified last year that the biggest impact Starbucks could make would be in addressing their supply chain, including affecting what materials could be developed to effectively minimize the ecological footprint of their cups. But that the cups themselves were not the best way to address their footprint. Compostable cups look shinier than they are in many cases, and not all store locations have recycling infrastructure in place either. Sometimes what consumers clamor for is not what actually makes the most difference, unless it does to them! Ahh, sustainability.

  27. Great post, Waylon. I don't watch TV much but happened to catch their Earth Day commercial. Gag! How many cups did they go through just for that commercial?! Reusable mugs every day fer gods sake! ~Cheers!

  28. werdtoyamotha says:

    Um, they actually do have for-here cups, but maybe not at every location. Though it is ridiculous how wasteful they have been over the years, serving billions of garbage, made-from-virgin-resources cups.

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  30. G.C. Aloha says:

    I worked in some of the very first Starbucks in Chicago, which was the second major city after Seattle (excluding Vancouver, WA), back in 1988, and I can tell you there is no need to measure shots. You can pull the shots into shot glasses and then pour them into the cup. It is more likely that they are measuring the milk or soy milk for the lattes and mochas. Starbucks's management are sticklers for quality control, and they are adamant that every cup of Starbucks coffee be uniform, no matter where or when it's made; that's the secret to their success–consistency. So if they accidentally gave you too much milk in your mug because it's bigger than their standard cup, it affects both their bottom line (do they really want to give away extra milk left and right?) and the customer's experience of the drink. However, this doesn't mean they need paper cups to measure. Here's a novel idea: pyrex MEASURING cups. Yep, that should work just fine.

    For the record, whenever I go into a Starbucks and know I am staying, I ask for my drink in a "for here" cup, and they always happily give me one. However, it's a little harder to get them to hear you properly when you ask for a plate for your scone, rather than a paper bag. I've actually had someone apologize and empty my paper bagged scone onto the plate and then throw the bag away–sort of defeats the purpose, huh?

    I think Starbucks needs to work harder on the environmental issues. Personally, I'm as concerned about the BPA that's melting into my drink from the plastic liner as I am about those billion or so cups being thrown away each year. Looks like they really need to use recycled/recyclable, non-BPA-lined to-go cups; offer "for here" cups and plates more readily–not to mention let people know they have them available; not use paper cups for measuring; and train their employees to actually listen when someone says to put the muffin on a plate, please.

  31. G.C.Aloha says:

    One of the problems with local coffee shops is that the baristas often have no clue how to make a cup of coffee properly, and the quality of your drink can vary widely depending on who's on the bar. As I mentioned in my comment above, Starbucks emphasizes quality and consistency, and they have a training program for their employees to ensure quality control. I love my local coffee shop, but there've been times I wanted to jump behind the bar and take over for someone who clearly had no clue he was burning the milk or overextracting the shot, or worse, stirring down all the beautiful foam he just made! If I get a cup of Starbucks I know it will not only taste the same whoever is on the bar at a particular time of day, but at every Starbucks store, whatever city, state or country I'm in.

  32. G.C.Aloha says:

    I have always been able to get my drink "for here," both at the Starbucks I worked in in Chicago nearly 25 years ago and at the one in my town in Hawaii. You just have to ask. The problem is that they probably need to publicize the fact that it's even an option. It's possible that in some stores where they don't have much or any seating, they don't offer that option.

  33. […] After every party, trash. Oh, Starbucks: howwabout compostable or […]

  34. e says:

    You should see how many milk jugs that go into the trash at the Starbucks near me. They don’t recycle ANYTHING!

  35. annoyed says:

    get your facts straight!

    I typically love ej articles, but this is plain wrong.

    Starbucks does recycle, unless local code says otherwise.

    All Starbucks should have ” for- here” ware for customers that do not want a paper cup. it is actually policy for baristas to use these ceramic mugs while working.

    Starbucks offers a reusable cup for $1, to encourage customers to use less paper. unfortunately, many consumers so not want to be so green and want two or three cups for their latte.

    Starbucks is the largest purchaser of fair trade coffee in the world. they are also working on helping more farmers get certified. the certification is a much more costly process than the average consumer realizes.

  36. earthwormbookworm says:

    I know they definitely used to use ceramic cups if you weren't to go, but a friend who worked there said one of the reasons they made the switch at the one she worked at was because people kept stealing them.

  37. Josh D says:

    Actually, Starbucks cups ARE recyclable, but Starbucks doesn't recycle unless the community does. Your faulty reporting here requires a bit more research. "The ubiquitous green and white hot beverage cup, made with 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, is itself technically recyclable and compostable right now. The issue is infrastructure."

  38. ace says:

    Most locations can not recycle per city/town regulations. They are not allowed to use the city resources and are forced to hire out of state recyclers. While the employees and company would love to pay for the service, customers won't pay $9 for a cup of coffee to offset the services.