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Starbucks vs. McDonald’s > Who Will Win The Recycling Battle?

As an individual, recycling feels good. Yet it can also sometimes feel despairing when confronted to the wide scale of the task. “What difference am I going to make?” I often hear. “It’s up to the big corps to set an example.” Well here is a breath of fresh air for all of those thinking this way, as both corporate giants McDonald’s and Starbucks have implemented significant policies towards cups recycling.

After giving up their “{{LNK|bright polystyrene clamshell burger containers|,r:1,s:0,i:70}}” we used to see in the 1990’s, it is within the context of its "{{LNK|Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Program|}}" that McDonald’s is now testing in 2000 of its US locations a new coffee cup made out of paper to replace the traditional foam cup. Why? Polystyrene foam cups are composed - like the name says - of {{LNK|styrene|}}, which is not yet commonly recycled, takes about 500 years to decompose and creates enormous amounts of waste. Also not to be neglected, is international health organizations like the {{LNK|International Agency for Research on Cancer|}}’s suggestions that styrene in any form “contains the toxic substances Styrene and Benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans” when absorbed. Paper on the other hand, is easily recyclable, biodegradable in soil, and has not proven so far any danger to public health.

For the record, “when McDonald’s introduced its Premium Roast coffee in 2006, it was selling {{LNK|500 million cups of coffee a year|}} in the U.S. alone”. All of which had to go to waste. Today, 82% of the leading fast food chain’s packaging items is made from renewable materials, and “many of the restaurants (…) recycle {{LNK|corrugated cardboard and used cooking oil|}} in the course of normal restaurant operations (…) These two items representing nearly 35% of the total waste (by volume) generated by an average restaurant.”

McDonald’s paper cups initiative comes as no surprise, after coffee titan Starbucks has just launched its {{LNK|in-store recycling program|}}, consisting in tripling the availability of in stores recycling bins, and “moving away” from in-store reusable mugs to recyclable cups and customer-owned tumblers. The target is to shift {{LNK|from 1.89 to 5 percent of beverages served in “personal tumblers” by 2015|}} - somehow more realistic than the 25 percent objective that had been set in 2008 – to save on water consumption due to washing requirements. “Companies are becoming more aware that resources are limited and what they’ve traditionally thrown away — wow, it has value (…) There are financial benefits to doing this (…) and we also save money because it helps us retain good people every year and builds brand reputation at no cost to the marketing budget. It makes business sense” says Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact at the Starbucks Corporation.

In 2006, Starbucks was recorded to sell about {{LNK|4 millions coffee drinks a day|}}, which by deduction, takes us to an average of 1 billion and a half coffees a year. Today, the figure has climbed to about 4 billions. More details can be found about their contemporary actions on the company’s {{LNK|Annual Global Responsibility Report|}}.

These initiatives take part to a global movement that wants food & beverage companies to start “assuming the costs of recycling their packaging after consumers are finished with it”, a principle that has been practiced for a long time in Europe, the {{LNK|New York Times|}} says.

“Local governments are literally going broke and so are looking for ways to shift the costs of recycling off onto someone, and companies that make the packaging are logical candidates. More environmentally conscious consumers are demanding that companies share their values, too”, Jim Hanna concludes on.

Today, the race is not about the amount of items sold anymore, but the amount of recycled materials each of them can take care of at their own expense. And considering the impact McDonald’s and Starbucks can both have on consumers, but also suppliers and competitors, it feels reassuring to see such huge corporations set the example.

Now, which of the two do you think is likely to win the race?

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