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Posted Nov 06 2008 7:34am

So I was getting some work done on my car yesterday and had two hours to hang out near the repair shop. I walked to Starbucks, a place I rarely go, to work on a book proposal. I ordered an organic decaf, having already met my "caffeine limit" (Fair Trade, organic, home-brewed) for the day by 5 AM!

"We're not brewing it today," I was told. O-kay . . . I guess you have to schedule when you are going to have organic decaf at this place.

Anyway, so I got something else, the Pike Place decaf (which turns out to be responsibly grown and ethically traded, a little detail that I would have appreciated knowing at the time rather than after I came home and researched).

I like that Starbucks uses recyclable cups--especially after dealing with Dunkin Donuts (which is the coffee my husband likes and which I get for him a couple times a week) and their insistence on using styrofoam cups (which my county doesn't accept for recycling) (See the temporary Dunkin Donuts solution I worked out here ). Yet, when I asked the barista where the recycling bin is, he said, and I quote, "Oh, we don't recycle. Just trash it."

Hmmmm. I stood there with the Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility brochure in my hands, its impressive list of key performance indicators staring up at me from their easy-to-read chart, and felt what can only be called a disconnect.

Now, I'm not really intending to single out Starbucks for this. I had a similar experience at another coffee place a couple weeks ago, and frankly, I don't think I know any businesses that have customer recycling bins at their locations. The problem is twofold:

1. If you claim all these environmental operating procedures and you don't do a simple thing like in-store recycling, I think you're dropping the ball.

2. If you are an individual who recycles at home, you feel just plain wrong throwing away something you know is recyclable.

So I glanced back at the brochure and read its first line, "It began, as many good things do, with some heartfelt conversations," and I realized, you know what? That's where it has to start. Always. With conversation.

And so, you know how I like to contact corporate headquarters. I emailed the Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility contact person listed on the internet. I woke up this morning to this lengthy response:

Hi Pattie,

Thanks for getting in touch about this. Sorry for my delay, I just now heard back from my coworker about recycling in your area. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. Please let me know what the other things were that you noticed as well, and I hope I can provide some context or clarity. Feel free to call me as well, number below. And, don't hesitate to go back to the store and give your feedback to the store manager, they will be more than willing to listen, I promise you.

This store does not currently recycle. One of the reasons is that the landlord does not provide facilities for cardboard recycling out back. However, we're not relying on others to solve our recycling challenges. The stores in your area are currently working on the community level to roll out our company-wide commitments to recycling, expanded on below.

Across the country, we actually do recycle in 73 percent of our stores where commercial recycling is available – the specifics of that statistic are as follows: during fiscal 2007, 73 percent of our stores in the U.S. and Canada where Starbucks controls waste removal recycled at least one or more items, including cardboard, plastic, paper and organic wastes.

You also probably know that in many local communities where comprehensive residential recycling exists, there may be minimal or no commercial recycling, which limits our ability to provide recycling within our stores. This is the case at your store. In those cases, we often encourage our customers to consider taking recyclable items such as glass and plastic bottles with them to recycle outside the store, but this is obviously not a long-term solution.

Just last week, we committed to the following goals around recycling - they're part of our Shared Planet(tm) commitments - the way we work together with our customers, communities, farmers and environment to create a better world for all:

• Have a recyclable cup developed and launched by 2012
• Reduce paper cup usage in our stores by 25 percent by using reusable mugs instead
• Have recycling available in all our stores

Please send your readers to to read more about Shared Planet and these commitments. They can also share their environmental ideas on

I'm apt to give Starbucks the benefit of the doubt here, especially because I recently read a book titled How Starbucks Saved My Life, by Michael Gates Gill, about a 50-something-year-old advertising executive who was downsized, had just gotten divorced and had health problems. He got a job at Starbucks and his life changed in ways he never could have imagined.

I'm also apt:

* To advocate more vocally for commercial recycling in my soon-to-be-city

* To continue to point out "disconnects" with what a company says and what it does

* And, most importantly, to have conversations that can be catalysts for change.

And yes, I carried my cup home with me to be recycled at my curbside. After I notcied the cup had dripped on my papers, I got to thinking--wouldn't it be handy to have a special leak-proof bag for carrying around recyclable garbage?
Nurturing sustainability close to home and around the world. (And other food for thought!)

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