love thy manager: on starbucks and recycling

Our Starbucks store goes through approximately 300 gallons of milk every week, not counting the additional 150 or so half-gallon jugs.  That’s over 16,000 gallon jugs every year.  Company-wide, Starbucks used 93 million gallons of milk in 2007.

It takes 250-450 years for a plastic milk carton to decompose.  And that’s an optimistic perspective.

These are the statistics I wanted to share with my coworkers at our meeting last night.  I wanted to tell them that preserving ecological systems by recycling and caring for our environment means that plants and animals — our food supply! — will be stable and sustained for future generations.  I laid out five steps we could take to move toward that goal.  The first step: ask the property management to provide a recycling bin behind the building.

When I got to the meeting, I told the guy who had asked me to write down my thoughts on recycling that I had my notes.  I thought he had some, too, but… “No, this is your puppy,” he told me.  Fine, then.  I could present what I had; it was compelling on its own.  Before the entire meeting slipped away from me, I asked the manager if I could have a moment to give my schpeal.  “Are you going to volunteer to take the trash to the recycling center?” she asked me, point-blank.  She had asked me this before.  She had told me it was the only option.  I had just dared to hope that the guy who had invited me to make notes might know better than the manager herself, beings he has more tenure and all.  He might know we have more options than the ludicrous idea for a barista to drive ten or more huge bags of trash to the local recycling center every day on volunteer hours.  (Believe me, one part of my head told me I could do that.  Or I could even take a token bag of recyclabes home every night to put in my own bin.)

“I thought we could ask the property management to put a recycling bin out back,” I said to my manager.

“I already asked them,” she said.  “They won’t do it unless our store pays for it, and we don’t have room in the budget for that.”

“How much does it cost?” I asked.  Twice.

“A lot.”

“You know, I would think at a company that tries to be so eco-friendly, corporate would make sure each store has money to pay for a recycling bin, if necessary.”

“Yeah, you would think.  When I first came here, it used to bother me how many cups and everything were thrown away, but then the financial side of things kind of took priority.”

“Okay, I don’t have anything to present then,” I told her, and I pocketed my notes, my compelling statistics, my plan for change.

I’m furious.  We can’t afford to start a recycling program?  We can’t afford not to.  I’m trying to love my manager, to realize that it’s not her fault that she’s not educated enough to care about recycling.  I’m discouraged that from how it looks today, it actually may be impossible for my store to start a recycling program. 

With my little ounce of hope, I want to contact someone in a corporate office and ask them why things are the way are.  I want to ask them if they really expect their earth-conscious employees to personally haul all recyclables away on volunteer hours.

I know there are more important things in life than recycling a milk carton or a paper cup.  But it’s such a simple thing.  I’m not trying to be a hero; I’m just trying to do what’s right.  I guess now that I’ve been slapped in the face, I’ll just have to stay put.  My manager will just have to slap me on the other side because I’m not giving up that easily. 

  1. This is a great story, and one that should be told. My suggestion is to actually start taking as much of it as you can to the recycling center yourself. And take home a bag every night. Email or write your corporate office and tell them what you’re doing. Even email them an invoice for the cost you incur to dispose of the milk containers. Send it to them every month. Then after a month, call the newspaper or TV station and have them do a story on it. Have all of your numbers in place. How much will it cost for the company to gain a corporate contract with a disposal company, vs. the profit they’ll gain from an amazing ad campaign about their true commitment o the environment, etc. As a former journalist, this would be something I’d write about in an instant. If you can get more employees from other stores to do the same, you’d really have a movement going. Then, they’ll have to listen to you. Stick to your guns. You’ve go a great idea, and a great opportunity to make a real difference. Remember, if you don’t do it…obviously no one else will either. I believe in your cause, now you believe in your commitment to it.

  2. This is awesome! I think that it takes someone in every store to maintain programs like this. Great work this is amazing! As a customer I love to hear about how Starbucks employees are helping the environment.

    • clbeyer
    • April 4th, 2008

    Paul, thanks so much for the encouragement.

    Alisa, I’m honored you think this is worthy of being publicized. You inspired to me take my single bag of recyclables home after work tonight. We have space in our bin at home, so why let landfills fill up unnecessarily? It was easy, and it made me feel like I’m walking my talk.

    Thank you both for taking the time to read my post!

    • Margret
    • April 4th, 2008

    Hi Carrie,
    I think it’s a great idea! Did you consider calling 311 (the city) and asking them for some of those “big blue”s? I have 2 at my house and it’s such a convenience that they pick it up very other week!

    • jeff epstein
    • May 30th, 2008

    I find your post very interesting – I am curious what region you are in? In some areas the reduction in cost hauling/landfill fees could offset the recycling cost – which the landlord should be taking into account (frankly, Starbucks as a coveted tenant should have a lot of clout with commercial landlords). I am a beverage entrepreneur in the Pacific NW and I have shifted my focus to sustainability projects and technologies that relate to the beverage industry, including voluntary recycling models. I have been studying Starbucks, among others, as I have some environmentally friendly packaging technologies, as well as recycling concepts that I am developing – with the intent to pitch them to Starbucks as well as some bottled beverage companies. I live in Oregon, which is a “green” state, and the plastic behind the counter does get recycled here…. but all of the cold cups (which are recyclable) and hot cups (which are not recyclable except for the lids) get thrown out still – the customer is not given the option to recycle. I’m curious if you have any update to your story, or if you have more that you can share…

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