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[greenyes] Re: Starbucks Recycled Content Cups

I see that Doug Koplow wrote a terrific response (no surprise) about the
subsidy issues, so I will respond instead to the cost and content issues
regarding paper recycling. First, I think the statement in question is
pretty glib - there is so much complexity involved that to say "additional
procedures to turn what is essentially trash into usable paper products"
makes me wince. "Trash"??? How long have we been working to change this
mindset?! However, while I don't know all the specifics of the mills
involved in this deal, there are several factors that may create higher
prices for the recycled paper:

1) The deinking pulp mill providing the recycled pulp is the only one so
far certified to provide this level of FDA-approved pulp, so there is a
limited supply,

2) The deinking pulp mill is a stand-alone mill (which is true for much of
the high grade deinked pulp available in North America at this time). Since
it is not integrated into the papermaking mill, as most virgin pulp mills
are, its product both has to be shipped to the paper mill and also adds
another layer of commerce to the deal,

3) If the papermaking mill has a virgin pulp mill that otherwise supplies
all its fiber requirements, it will have to idle some of its virgin pulping
capacity to replace it with recycled pulp. Since this is kraft pulp, that
means that its virgin pulp is created by cooking down the tree, with only
about half resulting in papermaking fiber. The rest of the tree material is
sent off to another part of the mill to co-generate energy. If the mill
instead has to idle some of its virgin pulping, it is also idling some of
its co-generation capacity and then must buy outside fuel.

These are economic issues that can be changed when recycling becomes more
integrated into paper mills. Starbucks' dedication to incorporating recycled
content into its cups is a great step towards that future. There's no
question that source reduction via reusable cups is the best, but I'm not
hopeful we're going to be getting there quickly. In the meantime, as long as
there are disposable cups, making them with as much recycled content as
possible is a good thing.

How much is possible? I don't think that anyone yet knows. We have been told
by at least one industry source that recycled fiber doesn't perform well
beyond 30% postconsumer when it is in constant contact with aqueous fluids.
I would think that a paper cup would need a high percentage of long fibers
for strength, much higher than for office paper; recycled content is used to
replace short fibers in paper, so that could limit it in this type of
product. Keep in mind that making a paper cup for hot liquids is very
demanding, with a lot of functionality and safety issues involved as well as

I don't think people should be disappointed with 10% postconsumer to start
with. Rather, I think we should celebrate that Starbucks has pioneered
recycled content in a product that had not had any before, and that this
commitment, even at this level, means a lot of deinked recycled fiber will
be used because of the number of cups involved. Recycled printing and
writing mills (which use this same kind of pulp) have been closing over the
past several years (more than a dozen since 2000) and have not been replaced
because the paper industry has not seen enough demand to convince them to
re-invest or to shift the recycled capacity to newer mills. A purchaser with
the public profile and clout of Starbucks can change that message, which is
good for all of us who care about recycling.

We still have a lot of work to do to build the recycled paper system. We
don't have the infrastructure to go from zero to 100 right away. As this
product is embraced by customers, environmentalists, recyclers, and others,
other cup manufacturers will be encouraged to follow and possibly go further
- in postconsumer content, in types of products included, in technology and
research - and that should encourage more investment and development of the
necessary recycling infrastructure, which in turn will encourage more
incorporation of recycled content. That's how I think eventually we'll get
to a fully functioning recycling economy.

If, instead, everybody picks this step apart and says it's not good enough -
why would other cup-makers or purchasers follow suit? It takes an enormous
amount of work and coordination to set up the systems to produce and
distribute an advance like this. I say, let's applaud each step - just make
sure they keep going and call on the rest of the industry to follow their

Susan Kinsella

Susan Kinsella
Executive Director
100 Second Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone - 415/721-4230
Fax - 509/756-6987
E-mail - paper@no.address
Websites -,

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