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RE: [greenyes] Re: Starbucks Recycled Content Cups

Eric Lombardi wrote:
"Do you know if the Starbucks paper cups are recyclable, compostable, or
neither? I'm guessing it depends upon what they've been coated with."

I wondered about this as well. Most disposable cups, especially those
designed for hot liquids have a polyethylene coating, so the "recycled
product contact with food" would not even be an issue.

Since I have worked with Ben Packard at Starbucks, I will call him and
ask some of these questions and suggest the recyclability logo and let
you all know his response. Before I call, does anyone else have a
question they would like me to ask?

Most of the recyclability information I have read with regard to
biodegradable plastics is regarding contamination in the plastics
stream. I have heard from industry reps that up to 10% PLA would be
acceptable, but typically the applications are different from recyclable
plastic applications and minimize commingling - for example, PET for
bottles, PLA for food service ware and lawn and leaf bags. My hunch is
that a PLA coating would not be a problem in paper recycling, either
being screened off, or degrading to starch in the recycling process, but
that's just a hunch. Susan might know.

There are several companies making or working on biodegradable coatings
for paper products, most from Polylactic Acid (PLA), some not. There is
still significant debate in the industry regarding the relative
degradability of some of these products. The American Society for
Testing and Materials (ASTM) specifications have been developed for
compostability of both degradable plastics products such as cups, bowls,
plates, utensils, straws, bags, etc. and degradable plastic coatings
(ASTM 6400 and 6868, respectively). There are also International
Organization for Standardization (ISO) German, Japanese, Taiwanese, and
other specifications. Products that are rested to meet the ASTM
specifications for compostability can be certified by the Biodegradable
Product Institute (BPI - and use their logo.
It is important to do your homework and work with your composter prior
to deciding on products to purchase. Many of these products can be
purchased from companies listed on this page:

There are also uncoated paper or other fiber products that work for this

Before purchasing any of these however, it is also important to ensure
they will be collected for composting. For many restaurant situations,
it does not make too much sense to purchase these products for to-go
orders where there is not a very strong composting infrastructure or
home composting ethic, especially if there is an extra cost in the
purchase of the products, and/or you are replacing a product that would
be recycled.

My two cents.

Terry S. Brennan
Integrated Waste Management Specialist
California Integrated Waste Management Board
phone (916) 341-6578
fax (916) 319-7474
e-mail tbrennan@no.address

Zero Waste - You make it happen!

-----Original Message-----
From: Eric Lombardi [mailto:eric@no.address]
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2004 7:38 AM
To: Doug Koplow; greenyes@no.address; seek@no.address
Subject: Re: [greenyes] Re: Starbucks Recycled Content Cups


Do you know if the Starbucks paper cups are recyclable, compostable, or
neither? I'm guessing it depends upon what they've been coated with.
speaking of "coatings", does anyone have an update on the bio-plastic
PLA) spray-on coating that was being developed to replace the
wax-cardboard boxes used by grocery stores? I was told that this
innovation would allow the grocery store "wax"-cardboard to be recycled,
which isn't the case today
(I know it can be composted.) My other interest in this technology is
finding a usable and compostable/recyclable food box for "delivered" or
"to go" food applications from restaurants. I'm imagining some kind of
paperboard box sprayed with PLA that could then be composted? I have a
lot of local interest in this sort of single-use food packaging for hot


Eric Lombardi
Executive Director
Boulder, CO

----- Original Message -----
From: "Doug Koplow" <koplow@no.address>
To: <greenyes@no.address>; <seek@no.address>
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2004 8:01 AM
Subject: [greenyes] Re: Starbucks Recycled Content Cups


I've heard that recycled fiber is already used to a fairly high degree
frozen food packaging, though have no specifics. Do you have any idea
the post-consumer recycled content for that application? Are there
for the cup application, or is the hot liquids issue simply far more
demanding than holding frozen food?


Doug Koplow
Earth Track, Inc.
2067 Massachusetts Avenue - 4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02140
Tel: 617/661-4700
Fax: 617/354-0463

This message, and all attachments thereto, is for the designated
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>>> Susan Kinsella <seek@no.address> 11/19/04 01:25AM >>>
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
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
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
the high grade deinked pulp available in North America at this time).
it is not integrated into the papermaking mill, as most virgin pulp
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
all its fiber requirements, it will have to idle some of its virgin
capacity to replace it with recycled pulp. Since this is kraft pulp,
means that its virgin pulp is created by cooking down the tree, with
about half resulting in papermaking fiber. The rest of the tree material
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
its co-generation capacity and then must buy outside fuel.

These are economic issues that can be changed when recycling becomes
integrated into paper mills. Starbucks' dedication to incorporating
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
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
by at least one industry source that recycled fiber doesn't perform well
beyond 30% postconsumer when it is in constant contact with aqueous
I would think that a paper cup would need a high percentage of long
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
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
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
past several years (more than a dozen since 2000) and have not been
because the paper industry has not seen enough demand to convince them
re-invest or to shift the recycled capacity to newer mills. A purchaser
the public profile and clout of Starbucks can change that message, which
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
other cup manufacturers will be encouraged to follow and possibly go
- in postconsumer content, in types of products included, in technology
research - and that should encourage more investment and development of
necessary recycling infrastructure, which in turn will encourage more
incorporation of recycled content. That's how I think eventually we'll
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
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
sure they keep going and call on the rest of the industry to follow

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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