, , - Posted on March 28, 2019

Nearly Half of Starbucks Shareholders Support As You Sow Proposal on Reusable Drinking Containers and Recycling Goals

Break Free From Plastic
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Photo by Nadya So


Oakland, CA—March 27, 2019—Nearly half of Starbucks’ shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting last week supported an As You Sow resolution to develop aggressive plans to meet packaging reuse and recycling goals. The 44.5% vote in favor represents $21 billion of investor support, far exceeding a similar vote last year that received 29% support. It is the largest shareholder vote result in recent years on packaging and recycling issues.

The proposal asked the company to reinvigorate a previous commitment to serve 25% of beverages in reusable mugs, and to extend plans to recycle cups and other packaging in North American stores and parts of Western Europe to all locations globally.

Following last year’s vote, the company agreed to spend $10 million on an initiative to make its cups more recyclable and to ban plastic straws by 2020.

“This vote is especially striking as it is much higher than last year, even following actions taken on recyclable cups and banning plastic straws,” Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president, said. “The clear message from a near majority of shareholders is that the company’s actions to date weren’t enough, lag competitors, and do not present a comprehensive sustainable packaging policy.”

The vote comes as plastic pollution on land and water has risen dramatically in prominence as an environmental issue as new studies show far higher rates of plastic — about 8 million tons annually — ending up in oceans than previously believed. Without significant mitigation, by 2050 plastic could exceed fish by weight in oceans. Last year, the European Parliament voted to ban single use plastics items like straws, cups and plates. Starbucks now serves as many drinks in plastic cups as paper cups.

In 2008, Starbucks pledged that by 2015, it would serve 25% of beverages in reusable containers like ceramic mugs. Ten years later, less than 2% of beverages are served in reusable cups. The company also agreed to recycle all cups in North American stores by 2015. Today about 60% of North American stores have a recycling bin, but the company is not willing to disclose what percent of paper or plastic cups are actually recovered. It has no recycling commitments for stores in Asia where it has its fastest growth, opening a story in China every 15 hours.

Starbucks clearly lags competitors. McDonald’s Corp., retail premium coffee competitor with its growing McCafé coffee house style locations, made an industry-leading commitment last year to recycle all on-site packaging at all its locations globally by 2025. Starbucks has 3,300 locations in China alone with no recycling program.

The company continues to do piecemeal packaging sustainability efforts rather than develop a comprehensive policy. For example:

  • It has no recycled content in its Ethos® brand PET plastic water bottles, while many other major leading brands have long used recycled content.
  • No actions have been taken to encourage recycling of millions of paper cups provided to other quick service brands via its Seattle’s Best Coffee subsidiary used at 30,000 fast food locations.
  • It has no recovery goals for plastic, glass, and metal containers of Starbucks fast-growing ready-to-drink beverages sold in grocery and convenience stores.

For more information on As You Sow’s work on ocean plastics, click here.

Media contact: Stefanie Spear, sspear@asyousow.org, 216-387-1609

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