Starbucks and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have partnered to reduce waste from single-use cups and other packaging.

Starbucks’ goal is to ensure 100% of its cups are reusable or recyclable by 2015.

Currently, the coffee chain considers its cups to be recyclable only in communities where they’re collected and accepted at commercial and residential recycling systems. One of the major challenges Starbucks faces is a variance in local recycling capabilities.

“We know we can’t solve this problem simply by purchasing cups that are labeled ‘recyclable’ or ‘compostable,’” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental impact. “We have to ensure our customers actually have access to recycling services at their homes, at work and in our stores. We’ll only be successful if the various businesses and organizations that touch this issue are aligned and equally motivated to take action.”

Starbucks’ “holistic approach has the potential to make a significant impact on the entire food-service industry,” says Peter M. Senge, PhD, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

In-Store Recycling

In the last year, Starbucks has introduced front-of-store recycling in Toronto, Canada, where its cups are recyclable, and in San Francisco, where its cups are both recyclable and compostable.

The company plans to introduce front-of-store recycling in Seattle this summer and is discussing testing and implementation plans with other communities, including Denver, Chicago and Boston.

“This collaborative, solution-oriented approach is good for business and good for our planet,” says Jim Hunt, Boston’s chief of environment and energy.

Reusable Cups Preferred

Starbucks also encourages its customers to help reduce cup waste by opting for reusable alternatives.

The company has launched a global marketing campaign to increase tumbler use. Last year, more than 26 million beverages were served in reusable cups in U.S., Canadian and UK stores—a behavioral shift that kept nearly 1.2 million pounds of paper from ending up in landfills.

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