Cup to Cup: Closing the Loop – A Starbucks and Sustana Partnership

Cup to Cup: Closing the Loop – A Starbucks and Sustana Partnership


Turning an old Starbucks cup into a new
Starbucks cup, it’s not a magic trick. There’s a systematic and scientific
method behind transforming paper waste into food grade fiber, into new products
and reusable possibilities. Every year in the United States, an estimated
60 billion single-use coffee cups, many of which could have been recycled,
wind up in landfills for two main reasons. First, collection systems to capture
paper cups across North America are inconsistent, and many sorting centers
lack the resources needed to extract cups from the waste stream. Second, recycling mills need specialized
equipment to efficiently remove and separate the interior polyethylene
plastic liner of paper coffee cups and access the fiber in the paper.
This liner keeps liquids from seeping through the paper and leaving
behind a hot mess. At Starbucks, so much care and attention
has gone into the sourcing of our coffee and roasting up that coffee
and the brewing of that coffee, and the handover of that coffee,
in a cup, from barista to customer. It’s about that cup, now. Sustana’s recycled fibers facility
has invested in machinery to recycle Starbucks coffee cups
efficiently, effectively and at scale by separating their interior
plastic liners. In early 2018, four supply
chain partners came together to demonstrate that cups could
be recycled and turned into new cups. They included Sustana, in conjunction
with WestRock’s paper mill and SEDA Packaging’s converting
facility, recycling 18 truckloads of old Starbucks cups
into new Starbucks cups, a test case for sustainable
manufacturing. Supply chain partners, working
together to close the loop, contributing to the development
of a circular economy. The ultimate vision of the
Starbucks-Sustana partnership is to provide a full closed loop,
zero waste solution. That means, you drink your Starbucks
coffee from a cup made with fiber that was manufactured
using prior Starbucks cups. WestRock makes cup stock which
is the paperboard that goes into the cups themselves, and we
make it at our Evadale, Texas mill and we incorporate post-consumer,
recycled fiber from Sustana into that paperboard and then
it ships to SEDA, who converts it into cups for Starbucks. We’ve been working together for
many years to advance the potential to recycle cups. It’s so great to be
able to demonstrate its viability. So how does the cup to cup
collaboration process work? Once Starbucks cups are collected by
recycling trucks and brought to Sustana’s recycled fibers facility, they are mixed
with water and go through a high consistency pulping process where
cups are ground into a pulp by a 7-foot tall corkscrew rotor. Sustana’s high-consistency pulping
equipment is where the plastic liners begin to separate from the cups. The fibers are then screened and
washed to remove impurities and ink, and to separate the interior
plastic lining. Next, the fibers are thickened in a
dewatering process, and cut into sheets, which are baled and transported to
WestRock’s paper mill to be processed and formed into large rolls of
cup stock, which is the paperboard that goes into Starbucks cups. These large rolls of cup stock are then
sent to SEDA’s converting facility where printing cylinders lay
an image onto the paper. A rotary die cuts the paper into
what’s called a flat. And flats are loaded into the cup
machine, formed into cups and sent to Starbucks as new cups, made using
recycled fiber from old Starbucks cups. The iconic Starbucks cup. It holds more than just
well-crafted coffee. It holds the proof and potential of how
powerful post-consumer recycling can be. Every component of this circular loop
is being successfully executed and that’s what’s really exciting to see,
is that if we can pull off this execution seamlessly and we can repeat it,
each and every time, we’re solving this problem of
landfill and pollution and all this waste that’s really
degrading the environment.

4 thoughts on “Cup to Cup: Closing the Loop – A Starbucks and Sustana Partnership

  1. I got some questions on that:
    1. The sorting is performed manually from the paper stream?
    2. The "new" cup with recycled fiber: how much of the fiber is recycled and how much virgin fiber is used?
    3. What happens with the seperated Polyethylene? Is it also recycled?
    Apart from that, the approach is of course a good one!
    Please just make sure that the loop is closed as much as possible.
    Don't only look at the fibers.
    Think of everything: fillers, ink, PE, the lid, …

  2. What a waste. This will capture some ridiculously small percentage of the cups. It will also waste huge amounts of energy at every step, such as transport and recycling. Just cut the crap and stop using throwaways.

  3. Is this happening yet?
    And once the cup is given to the consumer then what? How does Starbucks get it back to then give it to the recycling companies?

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