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Evolution of the eco-cup
by Diane Anderson, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0) - The office paper in your recycling bin could soon end up back on your desk - reincarnated as a Starbucks cup. The $6.4 billion coffee colossus is now unveiling the world's first recycled beverage cup, made from 10 percent postconsumer fiber. That might sound like a small step, but it's actually the result of a 10-year odyssey littered with rejected designs and culminating in approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Without the FDA's OK, companies until now were wary of letting recycled pulp come into direct contact with food or beverages. "Starbucks has cleared a huge hurdle," says Victoria Mills, a project manager at nonprofit group Environmental Defense, which worked with Starbucks on the project. "We hope other large chains follow suit."

Starbucks, which goes through 1.9 billion cups annually, plans eventually to increase the recycled-fiber content of its packaging. But even the current design will conserve 5 million pounds of paper per year, or approximately 78,000 trees. "We had our eyes on the prize of an earth-friendly cup," says Ben Packard, Starbucks's director of environmental affairs. "Ten percent is just the first step." And it was a halting and uncertain one, to be sure. Here's how Starbucks (Research) made the move.


Starbucks wants to stop "double cupping," whereby customers get a second container as insulation. Environmental Defense and Starbucks hold a competition to solicit designs for a recycled cup that's thick enough to stand alone. Most are rejected because, among other reasons, they crumple easily or smell bad.


Meanwhile, the retailer begins using a 60 percent recycled paper sleeve in place of the second cup.


Several stores begin testing one of the contest entries, a two-layer cup with an outer layer made from 50 percent postconsumer fiber. But the cup is too flimsy and sometimes leaks.


The coffee giant starts over. Working with pulpmaker Mississippi River Corp., paper millMeadWestvaco (Research), and Solo Cup, it creates an eco-friendly version of its current cup that can be used with recycled sleeves.


The recycled pulp gets the FDA's stamp of approval, clearing the way for other businesses to create similarly eco-minded packaging. Top of page

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