Starbucks announces that it is testing out a compostable cup in five locations — New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and London. The new cup looks just like Starbucks’ current paper cup. The difference is inside, where instead of a plastic liner, a biodegradable liner serves as a barrier to make sure liquid doesn’t leak out. That liner, developed by a Thailand-based company, makes the cup compostable in commercial composting facilities, which are rare. Though the innovation may appear small to consumers, it’s a big moment for Starbucks, which has been struggling to find a greener alternative to its cup for three decades.
Most recently, in 2018, Starbucks committed to the NextGen Cup Challenge. Along with other food companies, Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners, a recycling-focused investor group, crowdsourced solutions for greener cups from the public. In February, the company announced 12 winners, including greener cup liners, barriers and cups themselves. Now, Starbucks is ready to start testing out some of those winning ideas.
Technically, Starbucks’ paper cups can be recycled — but in practice, they usually are not. Most facilities don’t recycle paper cups because to do so, they would have to separate the cups’ plastic lining from the paper. Many recyclers find that process to be more trouble than it’s worth. If those facilities try to recycle paper cups without separating out materials first, the plastic lining can jam up their machines.