Starbucks response to misleading claims about cup recyclability

The following letter was sent to Todd Paglia, Executive Director of on Nov. 28, 2017.

Dear Mr. Paglia,

We are proud of our many partnerships with environmental organizations who have helped us achieve industry leading sustainable practices. Our previous engagements with you were a sincere attempt to achieve common goals related to recycling. However, your recent claim that our paper cup is not recyclable as stated in your Facebook post of Nov. 1 is false, disingenuous, misleading and intentionally ignores the realities and complexity of recycling in our country.

First, as you know from previous conversations, our current cup is recyclable. We were the first to include post-consumer fiber (recycled content) along with a polypropylene lid which is readily recyclable. You are also aware that in order for a cup to be “fully recyclable” there must be a supporting municipal recycling infrastructure such as those which currently exist in Seattle, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (as demonstrated in an excerpt of Seattle’s recycling flyer below).

From Seattle Public Utilities recycling flyer showing the Starbucks cup accepted in the recycling stream.

Municipal links to cup recycling:


New York City

San Francisco

Washington, D.C.

In cities with no paper cup recycling, no coffee cup can be recycled. In contrast to your accusations, here are statements from two experts in the field who understand the true challenge of recycling:

"Starbucks is a leader in the ongoing work to make a 'recyclable' paper cup a reality. However, this takes a great deal of time and effort, and certainly not something that can be done alone or by simply choosing a 'better cup.' The truth is no cup is recyclable until it is widely accepted by communities, recycling facilities and paper mills. Starbucks should be applauded, not chided, for its role in the progress being made towards a recyclable cup." Lynn M. Dyer, President, Foodservice Packaging Institute

“Starbucks has worked extensively with Fox River Fiber to achieve and produce a 'recyclable cup.' Today, efforts by both companies to recycle a cup, and turn it into new recycled paper products including new paper cups inclusive of recycled material, is a reality. To make cups more 'recyclable,'' extensive efforts need to be focused on increasing national paper recycling rates above 60 percent, infrastructure spending on recycling facilities, and education on paper recycling's importance to our environment. Fox River looks forward to the continued opportunity to work with Starbucks and all stakeholders in making the availability of cups to recycle a continued and increasing reality.” Mark Bond, Specialty Fibers & Sustainability, Fox River Fiber

Second, last year you challenged us to consider another cup lining material from a third party that you claimed was more recyclable than ours. We had already reviewed the possibility of using that material and, as we explained to you, the results of the test showed that it failed our safety and quality requirements. We have previously communicated this to you, but you seem to not appreciate that our cups must meet a safety standard that cannot be sacrificed in favor of recyclability. As is our practice, we will continue to evaluate commercially viable cup lining solutions and partner with manufacturers and suppliers to innovate, while maintaining our commitment to a cup of the highest quality and safety.

Finally, we have a challenge for you – if you are sincere about your desire to achieve a more recyclable cup, join us and others in seeking a national policy necessary to make recycling a reality in cities, states and counties. Together, we can use our voices for constructive, genuine progress rather than a divisive, counterproductive campaign. As the world’s largest builder of LEED stores, the champion of 100 percent sustainable coffee, and a leader in advocacy for greater paper coffee cup recyclability, we know we cannot achieve the positive change we seek alone. It takes responsible partnerships, collective action, and local support. If you are genuinely interested in making recycling a reality, we encourage you to engage with leading organizations such as The Recycling Partnership, Keep America Beautiful and our own Starbucks Partners for Sustainability.


Colleen Chapman

Starbucks Coffee Company

vice president, Global Social Impact