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Customer sparks debate with photo of to-go coffee packaging: 'That is a simulation of action'

"Do you even really need a straw?"

"Do you even really need a straw?"

Photo Credit: Reddit

A customer looking to get their caffeine fix bought a prepackaged Starbucks iced coffee. However, they were astonished by the "useless" plastic encasing the drink's eco-friendly straw — and questioned whether the coffee giant could've done more to reduce waste associated with its products. 

What happened? 

A Redditor shared two photos of a prepackaged Starbucks Caramel Macchiato that seemed to use an unnecessary amount of plastic

"So, the straw is made of paper, but the rest is made of plastic, huh?" the original poster wrote in the post on the subreddit r/mildlyinfuriating, highlighting the comically large plastic lid. A thin plastic wrapper that held the paper straw is also visible on the side of the cup. 

"That is a simulation of action," a frustrated commenter suggested. "They pretend that they do something about [the] public's concerns."

Why is the container concerning?

Most plastics are made from polluting fuels like motor oil and gasoline, and they can take tens to hundreds of years to decompose, leaching toxins into the environment as they do so.   

The idea of the paper straw was a step in a healthier direction, but sadly, this appears to be another case in which the execution could've been better.  

The manufacturer used valuable resources to produce the straw and the plastic wrap — perhaps negating part of the positive step forward.  

"Do you even really need a straw?" one commenter wondered

As for the plastic lid, it is fair to wonder if the company could've used a less clunky design or less toxic material. Starbucks prepackaged Frappuccinos, for example, come in glass containers with metal lids.  

The U.N. Environment Programme has described the Earth as "choking on plastic," with more than 440 tons of plastic waste generated annually. 

Is Starbucks doing anything to limit waste?

The company's website outlines a bold climate action plan to reduce landfill waste by 50% by 2030. It says that it intends for its cups to be fully compostable, recyclable, or reusable by the end of the decade. 

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In an email to The Cool Down, a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed these aims and said that the company has been making adjustments to its ready-to-drink chilled cups. 

Regarding the original post, the spokesperson explained that the cup and lid are made from the recyclable mono-material polypropylene. 

"Starbucks continues to evolve the ready-to-drink chilled cup, developing more sustainable solutions in markets around the world. For example, Japan recently rolled out a ready-to-drink plastic chilled cup without a lid in March, reducing 15% of plastic used," the spokesperson said. 

The company has also taken steps to reduce the amount of plastic used for its in-store beverages. On April 18, it announced on its website that its newly designed cold cups required 10% to 20% less plastic and will keep 13.5 million pounds of the material out of dumps. 

"In recent years, Starbucks has been leading a cultural shift toward reusables while also working to make our single-use hot and cold cups more responsible. … Our latest improved single-use cold cup is our most recent sustainable packaging innovation and marks the first time Starbucks has designed a more accessible, sustainable single-use cup in our Tryer Innovation Center," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also indicated that more packaging innovations are in the pipeline.

"Globally, we've conducted more than 25 reusables tests in Japan, Singapore, London, Colorado and California and more, with more markets in the year ahead, all part of our efforts to unlock customer behavior as we develop a reusables experience we can scale that makes it easy for our partners and customers to reuse," the spokesperson told TCD.

It's unclear if the company will eventually phase out the plastic wrap around the paper straw.

What can I do to reduce plastic waste? 

One Redditor offered a different solution.

"Want to know how to save resources? Stop buying ridiculous take-away coffee," they wrote

Brewing coffee at home is one fantastic way to save money and produce less garbage. However, for those who need a pickup in the middle of the day, bringing a reusable coffee cup is an option, including at certain Starbucks. 

"Since January, customers at all company-operated Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada have had the option to use their own personal cup however they order — in café, in the drive-thru or with the Starbucks app," a Starbucks spokesperson told TCD. 

"When customers at participating stores in the U.S. and Canada bring any clean, personal cup, they will receive a $0.10 discount on their beverage, and in the U.S., Starbucks Rewards members will receive 25 Bonus Stars," the spokesperson added. 

Plastic-free alternatives exist for other products, too, from personal-care items like shampoo and razors to food storage solutions such as silicone containers

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