Day 27: Nov. 24th, 2009

March 15, 2010

Helllllloooooo world!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Chicago was crazy with the Chi-Irish! I left my apartment Saturday afternoon to discover that my street had been taken over by rowdy drunks…good times!

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

Today’s the day, I remember thinking when I arrived to the office: Today I finally get my much-anticipated phone interview with the Environmental Director of Starbucks about the pilot recycling program he implemented for Starbuck’s coffee cups in several NY stores!!!

Here goes nothing; deep breath.

            Ring, ring…

                        …Thirty minutes later…

Phew. I can stop sweating now. He was super nice, I thought to myself as I looked over the notes I took. While it was still fresh, I compiled the information and sent my team the following email:

Hey guys,

I just got off the phone with the Environmental Director of Starbucks; he was really cool and very insightful. This is what I learned:

  1. Starbucks found a university that creates the standards for corrugated boxes. They then tested their cups with the corrugated to see if it had a positive or neutral effect on the fiber. To their delight, the university determined that the cups actually yield a positive value on the fiber feedstock because of its high quality composition. In other words, the cups strengthened the OTC.
  2. They then found Pratt Industries, which is a cardboard manufacturer from Australia who is trying to make in inlet into the North American market, to process their cups with the corrugated material.
  3. They made a donation to Global Green, which is an NGO who created the CORR project, which looks to reclaim corrugated material. Upon their contribution, they had access to all of their research and contacts within various municipalities.
  4. From there they set up a store trial, where they had their customers separate the cup from the lid, to be collected in the warehouse of a MRF until the quantity necessary to find an end market accumulated. Their customers were happy to do this because they have been asking for this for a while.
  5. They focused on expanding the existing OCC recycling infrastructure, not creating a new market or closed loop system. They opted for the OCC market because most communities have access to these programs because corrugated is one if the mostly recycled fiber materials (OCC market as opposed to the mixed paper waste market, which is much more regionally specific, as is the case with the markets for mixed plastic waste that reside predominantly on the East and West coasts for shipment to Asia for energy recovery via incineration).
  6. They then plan to use the pilot project as a case study for why more buyers of OCC from MRFs should accept Starbucks cups on the bales.
  7. They held a cup summit and because of their large pull in the market place, were able to invite powerful players in various municipalities, resin manufacturers (Dow), retailers, MRFs, etc. to create a momentum that cities would like to tap into for their own PR initiatives (municipalities compete with how much material they are saving from landfills i.e. “zero waste” PR).

*Basically, if there is enough volume of any reclaimed material, there can be an end market for it. This implies that we must collaborate with North American manufacturers of thermoformed non-food plastic packaging in order to find the quantity necessary to find a buyer for the end-of-life market.

I know this is not on the top of our list of priorities, but it is a good long-term goal. Until the market picks up, however, I find it difficult to imagine that our competitors would want to engage in this type of recycling initiative. Moreover, we are not Starbucks, so spear-heading something like this on altruism alone probably won’t take us very far. I honestly think that collaboration is the way to go…

We are still waiting to hear back the results from the MRF to see if our RPET is compatible with the PET bottles via optical sorting, If so, we have already tackled one of the components of the above  approach. I think that we should continue to find ways to enhance the existing infrastructure; all we need is collaboration to produce the quantity necessary to find an end-market for it.

I’ll keep you posted!


Tune in Wednesday to learn more about recycling in America!

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