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.

1996

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.

1997

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

1999

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.

2001

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.

2004

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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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.