Sustainability and Paper Cups in Starbucks, Essay Example


When considering the concept of sustainability, the first word that comes to mind is that of the environment.  Paper cups, are one of the most common consumables in our daily life. The disposal of these has become a serious problem in latest fifty years.  This has contributed to the effect of global warming. Every day in the U.S.  Millions of people will consume six cups of coffee as part of their routine life and only a few of them will choose not to use paper cups. As coffee has become the most popular drink for the breakfast and afternoon tea, all over the world, the expending of paper cups will only increase. Owing to the impact that paper cups will cause to the environment; some of the coffee stores advocate some discount activity to decrease the damage caused by paper cups. This project considers how paper cups are contributing to the destruction of the environment and the need for future actions of sustainability to protect the environment.

The amount that we pay for waste disposal is a reasonable charge given the costs involved in waste disposal and recycling of goods. For goods going to landfill sites and incinerators the processing costs are very expensive. Recycling is also very labour intensive but it does create jobs and overall makes consumer materials cheaper e.g. fresh aluminum costs twice as much as recycled aluminum. The amount of individual waste consumed by individuals has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. “Waste management in the U.S. is in a state of anarchy with no effective federal plan in place to maximize recycling and minimize waste. America generates more waste every year, growing from a 247 million tons of non-hazardous waste in 1990, to 409 million tons in 2001, according to Biocycle magazine, an industry publication” (Landes)

Environmental impact of paper cups

A paper cup is made of paper and lined with plastic or wax to prevent any drink from leaking out through the paper. Paper cups as the most popular drink container in the world, however, most of them are not recycled paper and as such they bring many negative impacts to the environment.

According to a study of paper cups, it illustrates one paper cup with sleeve (16 ounce) shows that the CO2 emissions is about 0.11 kilograms (0.25 pounds) per cup with sleeve— including paper from trees, materials, production and shipping. When one paper cup is made, 0.90 square meters natural habitat will lose.

Another statistic shows that in 2006, over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make paper cups used by U.S consumers, and also in this year, 4 billion gallons of water were using to make coffee and tea but resulting in 253 million pounds of waste. (yale sustainability)

The only result of using large amount of paper cups is heavy air pollution, which is related to the thesis in this paper: ‘sustainability’.  Wasting too many paper contributes to the wastage factor in the felling of trees.  In particular, the disposable paper cups. Basically, a tree needs ten to fifteen years to mature. During this period how many other trees will be destroyed purely for the use of paper cups?  Since the paper cup is a vital component of our routine life, most people do not consider the serious impact it creates. Meanwhile, landfill is another problem that disposable paper cups bring to the environment. The majority of the facilities are not equipped to recycle the paper cup, as such each year billions of paper cups and their plastic lids end up in landfills where they will stay for hundreds of years. (Appropedia). From my point of view, sustainability is not only buying green product or reduce gas using, we need to concentrate on the daily things around our life, try your best to change it.

Sustainability Campaign

Fortunately, there are some of the institutions and coffee store already realized the serious impact of paper cups. In this project, I am going to look at the most famous coffee store around the world—Starbucks. Starbucks is one of the most popular coffee shop in everywhere in the world, especially in its original place—U.S. And before 2006, paper cups were banned for recycling because of healthy. Fig 1 refers.

According to the graph above, U.S paper consumption has decreased in recent years. Starbucks serves 2.3 billion coffee cups a year.  Owing to the huge consumption of paper cups they have realised the importance of   environment concerns. Starbucks was the first company in the U.S to recycle content coffee cups. Those cups included ten percent post-consumer recycled fiber (PCF), this activity saved tens of thousands of trees, a half million gallons of wastewater and million pounds of garbage from being trucked to landfills. (Fusso).

Starbucks have built a global coffee empire on the basis of quality inexpensive drinks. In February 2009 the Seattle based Company announced that it will close more than 300 stores which would impact 6,000 people and result in 700 layoffs. Starbucks have stated that they will continue to expand its presence in Europe and staff that is layed off will be given the opportunity of alternate jobs in these stores.  They are planning to open 150 new stores in 2009/10. At this moment in time Starbucks are represented in more than 15,000 locations worldwide.

Starbucks have been instrumental in helping to increase the popularity of Coffee in China. The CEO has said that it plans to start and grow coffee in Yunnan province of China.  This essentially will make a strategic commitment to help strengthen and develop the Starbucks brand in China. Yunnan province coffee already has a well-developed reputation in China for the production of high quality coffee beans. Starbucks have indicated that they would like to export Yunnan coffee beans throughout its world-wide distribution of retail stores


Here is an objective for Starbuck in 2010:

Starbucks also recommend people bring their own coffee cup nowadays, while one customer bring their own cup, they could own ten cent discount for their order. This campaign encourages customers to be more environmentally friendly.

Sustainability usually reminds people about green products and protecting the environment. However, when confronted not too many people will agree upon how to achieve these objectives. Government usually are indifferent on the subject and the only effective way is make sustainability is by relating it to profit.  Modern Corporate entities become more interested in the concept of wealth accumulation and making profits. As a multi-national company Starbuck’s sets a good example to achieve paper cups sustainability.


Sustainable development is a major factor if we are to protect the ecology of our planet. Starbucks represent a corporate multi-national that has seriously considered the importance of environmental considerations in its business. This provides the following learning points for other firms to be similarly responsible:

  • The planet has limited resources
  • These are depleted by the human demands for growth
  • There are no practical means of escape, similar to the fate of the Islanders – extinction is an option!
  • Change the environment and we alter the shape of the world we live in.



Appropedia. environmental impact of a paper cup . 2011. 1 2 2012.

Fusso, Nicko. Starbucks, Paper Cups, and Environmentalism. 2011. 1 2 2012.