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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Seattle, First City of Disposable Plastic Thermos Containers

Well, Starbucks finally has its act together, if Wednesday’s earnings release is any indication.

At least, its financial act.

Starbucks’ environmental act still leaves a lot to be desired—particularly here in the U.S., where getting a Starbucks coffee in a ceramic mug is harder to accomplish than getting a three-pump, no-foam, half-decaf, non-fat, no-whip, extra-hot moca.

In the U.K., we should note, the situation is quite the opposite. There, instead of automatically serving coffee in a paper cup, Starbucks baristas prepare it in a mug. If you want the paper cup, you have to ask for it.The environmental friendliness over there stems, no doubt, from the Italian espresso bar—where patrons come in, down a coffee while standing, and then head back out into the world—being ingrained in the European psyche.

Americans, on the other hand, are simply accustomed to getting their morning coffee in what amount to disposable thermos containers made of paper cups and plastic lids—capped off in the case of Starbucks by long green plastic swizzle sticks designed exclusively to plug the tiny hole in the lid—before heading for the office in their Tahoes, Escalades and Tacomas.

Still, you might think that a company based in Seattle—a city that has an “Office of Sustainability and Environment” and calls itself “a national leader in raising awareness and inspiring action on many environmental issues”—would be a little more focused than the average fast-food joint on reducing the detritus of paper cups and plastic caps and plastic cups and paper wraps and long green plastic swizzle sticks designed exclusively to plug the tiny hole in the lid that fill up the trash containers at every Starbucks we’ve ever been to.

But you’d be wrong: the average Starbucks, at least in the U.S., recycles as much as the average frat house after pub night.

Besides which, the domestic Starbucks operating manual for CEO Howard Schultz’s beloved “baristas” seems to devote no space whatsoever to ways of minimizing the use of those disposable paper and plastic thermos containers for customers who don’t have to drive to the office in their Tahoes, if your editor’s recent interaction is any indication.

That interaction happened in a Philadelphia Starbucks, where we asked for a venti (large, in Starbucks parlance) skim latte in a mug, and then began to set up for an hour’s worth of work in between meetings.

After some efforts behind the counter, the barista called out that their one remaining venti mug—this is in a Starbucks in the city of Philadelphia—was chipped, and would I mind if he….

I didn’t quite catch his alternative above the noise of place, but usually they just put it in a smaller mug, which is no big deal, so I nodded and said “no problem.”

And what he did was this: he filled a smaller mug with three-quarters of a venti skim latte and put the rest—maybe an inch or so of coffee—in a venti paper cup with a plastic lid and a brown paper wrapper around it. The only thing he didn’t do was stick a long plastic swizzle stick in the hole in the plastic lid.

And we are not making this up.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2009 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews, who also acts as an advisor: clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business: all inquiries will be ignored. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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