The coffee giant said its NextGen Cup Challenge initiative, in partnership with Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, will provide grants to inventors who are working towards a new cup technology.
The company has previously made a pledge – a decade ago – to introduce 100% recyclable coffee cups, and has faced pressure from environmental groups to honour this commitment.
This announcement is seen by some groups as a rehash of the previous pledge – albeit with a firm commitment to fund the development of the required technology.
Starbucks admits its paper cups are currently manufactured with just 10% post-consumer recycled fibre.
The inside is coated with a thin liner designed to meet quality and safety standards.
The company’s research and development team is testing a new bio-liner, made partially from plant-based material.
In a statement, Starbucks said: “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition.”
Currently there are two companies that claim their technologies provide the solution to the question of coffee cup recycling.
The Frugal Cup from Frugalpac is marketed as being made from recycled cardboard that ‘can be processed by any UK paper recycling facility’. But it is understood there is a requirement for investment in certain equipment.
The other company – Smart Planet Technologies – claims its reCUP is the first commercially-available paper cup engineered for recycling through traditional paper recycling systems.
Will Lorenzi, president of Smart Planet Technologies, said the company re-engineered the cup to be fully functional and fully processable with traditional recycling systems by changing the coating formulation, and has recently been modified to pass EU specifications tests.
He said it was important that the Starbucks NextGen Cup Challenge recognised that the traditional polycoated paper cup is ‘unacceptable’.
“It’s appreciated that Starbucks is offering to spend $10m on R&D over three years for the possibility of a paper cup that is recyclable and compostable. We would like to participate in that effort. However, the interior coating can be changed in paper cups today to make them into fully recyclable materials. We invite Starbucks and others to join in changing paper cups to make them recyclable today, and invest in R&D for the potential to make paper cups both recyclable and compostable in the future.”