I made a short trip to a neighboring state last week. The hotel I stayed at provided Starbucks coffee. At breakfast, I grabbed a paper cup and filled it with some of the robust brew. While I was eating, I examined the cup and read the paragraph on the side, which noted that the cup was made with 10% post-consumer recycled paper fiber. (Starbucks introduced the 10% recycled fiber cup, manufactured from pulp produced by Mississippi River Corporation, in March 2006.)
“That sounds small, but it adds up – this move will reduce Starbucks use of virgin fiber by five million pounds in one year alone, the equivalent of 75,000 trees,” the text on the cup further stated. By implication then, Starbucks alone accounts for 45 million pounds of virgin pulp each year (22,500 tons/year), the equivalent of 675,000 trees. (Additionally, Starbucks provides corrugated protective sleeves, made from 60% post-consumer fiber, for use with the cups.)
One could look at those numbers and either congratulate Starbucks on its efforts to conserve resources or point fingers at the company for the apparent carnage of trees.
To put the numbers in perspective, let’s also convert to metric (20,412 metric tons/year or almost 56 metric tons/day) and see how long it would take to produce that much pulp, based strictly on capacity. At Stora Enso’s Kemijarvi pulp mill (capacity: 250,000 metric tons/year), which was closed at the end of April 2008, it would have taken roughly a month to produce the equivalent amount of pulp. At Aracruz’s Riocell pulp mill (capacity: 400,000 metric tons/year), it would take almost 19 days to fill the order; at Asia Pulp & Paper’s Hainan Jinha mill (capacity: 1 million metric tons/year), it would take little more than a week.
My point for this issue is that we should appreciate the impact each customer can have on the pulp and paper industry, not only for direct sales, but as a catalyst for innovation. In this case, the customer (Starbucks), initially in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, worked with its paper industry suppliers to develop environmental and economic improvements to the disposable cups the company had been using. From that effort, Starbucks began using the corrugated sleeve rather than a second cup to insulate cups.
In partnership with Mississippi River Corporation, MeadWestvaco, and Solo Cup Company, Starbucks helped drive development of the first major use of a recycled paper food-contact container, and got U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the process.
Another major food service chain, McDonald’s, also uses recycled material in its napkins, meal boxes, and food containers. The company has worked with its suppliers to develop and design innovative packaging that also uses fewer resources. Although it’s been in use for nearly 15 years, a notable example is the “clamshell,” a hinged sandwich container constructed from f-flute corrugated that includes 40% recycled fiber in the middle layer. Many other food service companies now use f-flute containers for fast-food packaging.
Recently, Starbucks announced that it would be closing 600 under-performing stores. I know of at least four Starbucks stores within about five miles of my house, and I’m sure the concentration is greater in other areas, so the loss of a few hundred stores will have a minimal effect on the company’s customer base, and overall use of paper cups. (A greater concern would be the effect of rising gasoline prices on consumer spending – whether people have to choose between fueling their cars or their coffee-drinking habit.)
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