Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Starbucks Misguided "Reusable" Cup Program

I recently read Steve Scauzillo's article in the Pasadena Star News describing the Starbucks coffee chain's new "reusable" cup program intended to reduce waste from landfills and to be a step towards sustainability for the company.  Although the program is well intended, there are serious environmental flaws which instead make this new program a step in the wrong direction for people and the planet.

The program:

According to the article, "Starbucks Corp. is rolling out a $1 reusable plastic cup at it's cafes starting Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013."  The sturdy plastic cup may be returned and re-filled, and Starbucks will even give a 10-cent discount each time.  Scauzillo continues to report that "the cup can withstand about 30 runs through the dishwasher, and according to the barista I spoke with, it can be recycled.  'Take it down the street to hat recycling center,' she said…"  
Mr. Scauzillo wrote that Starbucks "produces about 4 billion cups each year across the globe.  Can you say landfill crisis?  The company hopes the reusable cup will raise the percentage of sales in non-throwaway containers…"  One Starbucks customer interviewed in the article said of the program that "It relieves waste.  And it makes people more aware.  The more trash we are creating the more we are dumping into the landfill."

Unfortunately, the reality is that those hard plastic cups are all destined for either the landfill, or worse, as plastic pollution of our land and sea.  What could be so wrong with this effort to be sustainable?

Plastic recycling is a myth.

All plastic ultimately ends up in a landfill, or worse, as plastic pollution on land and sea.  So-called "recyclable" plastics such as bottles or the cups which Starbucks is beginning to use are in fact "down-cycled."  According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition:

"Collecting plastics at curbside fosters the belief that, like aluminum and glass, these will be converted into new similar objects. This is not the case with plastic. The best we can hope for plastics is that these will be turned into other products such as doormats, textiles, plastic lumber, etc. These products will still end at some point in the landfill – and do not stem the need for more virgin petroleum product.  This is not recycling, but down-cycling."

Plastic Pollutes.

Every piece of plastic which has ever been created still exists, and much of it permanently pollutes land and sea.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains hundreds of millions of tons of plastic pollution.  The plastic photodegrades in the water and on land, becoming microscopic pieces of plastic, yet never completely breaking down.  There are areas of the ocean which contain more plastic than Plankton, which is the base of the food chain.  These plastic particles attract toxic chemicals onto themselves from the water and thus poison the entire web of life and food chain of the ocean, including humans.  It is impossible to clean this microscopic pollution.  The only action which we can take is to quell the manufacture and global reliance on the unnecessary use of plastic in our disposable society.

Plastic containers impact our health.

Harmful chemicals leached by plastic are present in the bloodstream and tissues of almost every one of us, including newborns.

I often find Starbucks cups, plastic lids and straws as litter on the streets and in the gutters.  Thicker, heavier plastic cups left as litter create an even more severe plastic pollution problem.  Thick plastic cups currently distributed by fast food restaurants often become litter-- it is inevitable that the same will occur with these new Starbucks cups.  If Starbucks truly wants to be sustainable and reduce waste to landfills, these are my sugestions:

  • I always opt for ceramic mugs when I'm there.  This is best choice for the environment, and for personal health.  Ceramic mugs do not leach toxins and may be washed and reused indefinitely.  Starbucks should encourage the use of glass and ceramic mugs and cups for all beverages consumed on their premises.

  • Rather than distribute "reusable" plastic cups which may only withstand being washed up to 30 times, I suggest that Starbucks adopt the same program, but with stainless steel thermoses instead.  A stainless steel thermos would keep coffee warm, would not leach harmful chemicals, is truly recyclable, and may be washed and reused indefinitely. 

Simply transitioning over from plastic to stainless steel reusable containers would turn this program from well-intentioned-but-misguided to a truly commendable effort which would place Starbucks at the vanguard of sustainability.  It would be a model for all others to follow. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

A new vision for the Central Arroyo Seco

As a result of my recent Trash-a-Dena blog series documenting pollution in the Arroyo, Pasadena Director of Public Works Siobhan Foster asked to meet with me to discuss my ideas and a possible partnership with the City to address plastic pollution in the Central Arroyo.  On Tuesday, November 27, I met with Siobhan Foster, Parks and Natural Resources Administrator Charles Peretz and Parks Superintendent Ana Bailey, and shared with them my plan for the proper everyday maintenance of the Arroyo:

Role of volunteers:

  • Volunteers are an effective resource for periodic, targeted cleanups.  However, volunteers cannot manage day-to-day maintenance of the Arroyo and special event cleanups.  More manpower and financial resources are necessary to adequately maintain the Central Arroyo.

Generate funds for regular, day-to-day and event cleanup:

  • Install Kiosks which distribute day/month/yearly passes.

  • Funding could be generated using a tiered pricing system--a modest fee for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, a slightly higher price for other citizens of Pasadena, and a higher, but still reasonable, price for residents of other cities.

  • Parking permit would have to be priced reasonably to discourage recreational users of the Arroyo from parking in the surrounding neighborhoods.

  • According to the Urban Land Institute, the 3.3-mile Rose Bowl Loop attracts 1.5 million visitors per year, and Brookside Golf Course attracts 800,000 visitors per year.  If 500,000 of these visitors purchased a $10 annual parking pass, the City would generate $5,000,000 of revenue.

  • Keep the proceeds in the Arroyo.

Use Funds to:

  • Create a sustainable "Arroyo Seco Corps"- creating jobs for low-income youth throughout Pasadena, particularly from the Northwest.  By doing so, the City could create Green Jobs for the most economically disadvantaged youth in the City.

  • Offer the program through PUSD to students in good standing.

  • Train Arroyo Seco Corps in best practices for trash cleanup and invasive plant removal.  Training could be provided by local organizations such as the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

  • Install recycling bins and additional trash cans throughout Central Arroyo.

  • Install trash screens throughout Arroyo.

  • Install interpretive signage to educate public about habitat and pollution issues.


"Green" the Arroyo-- Set environmental rules for events - As documented in my post regarding the latest Walk for Autism, event organizers often distribute thousands of plastic water bottles to participants, which inevitably end up polluting the Arroyo stream and trails.  In addition, the recent balloon release by the Farmer's Insurance float during the Rose Parade impacted the Arroyo with litter.

A simple solution to these problems would be to require event organizers to serve water from refreshment coolers, using paper cups instead of distributing plastic bottles.  Event participants could be encouraged to bring reusable bottles.  Paper cups would not permanently pollute our watershed and ocean, and are easier to spot and remove during subsequent cleanup.  Balloon releases, which are nothing more than acts of mass-littering, should be prohibited.

  • Find alternatives to plastic zip-ties which are used to erect temporary fencing.  These zip-ties are often left on the ground, polluting the Arroyo after events.

  • Discontinue distribution of common Arroyo pollutants such as plastic straws and plastic beverage lids by restaurants and other food and beverage vendors in the Arroyo.  

  • Replace disposable, single-use plastic items with more sustainable alternatives.  For example, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Huntington Library have moved away from plastic packaging in favor of glass and compostable alternatives.

The Rose Bowl Stadium is located in the bottom of a canyon in an environmentally sensitive watershed.  It is a stadium with a year-long mountain stream running along side it which leads to the Pacific Ocean.  Pasadena should make it the "greenest" stadium in the world.  The Rose Bowl Stadium should set the standard for sustainability, and the Central Arroyo should be a model parkland.


This proposal is win-win for the City, the recreational users of the Arroyo, young people, public schools, and the Northwest Pasadena economy.  It will help the City comply with it's Zero-Waste goals,  create green jobs for Pasadena's young people, preserve the natural beauty of the Central Arroyo, and provide the citizens of Pasadena and all visitors to the Rose Bowl Stadium and the Central Arroyo with a world-class experience.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pasadena Pollutes

It's been a week since the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day, and the Central Arroyo remains riddled with trash and plastic pollution.  However, it wasn't the City of Pasadena's predictably inadequate "cleanup" effort after the game which most upset me these past few days, but rather the City's own plastic pollution which was produced in it's wake.

While driving north along Linda Vista Avenue yesterday afternoon, I was shocked to witness the manner in which a city employee carelessly removed the temporary "No Parking" signs posted on the trees along the road.  The temporary signs, held to the trees with a Saran-wrap-type plastic, were simply torn from the tree, and the remaining plastic wrap was left by the worker along the road and the bank of the Arroyo.  I knew that she would continue to leave the plastic carelessly along the road as she hastily continued on with her task.

This afternoon, as I biked through the still-trashed Central Arroyo to Brookside Park, I discovered more of the same.  I took photographic evidence of the plastic pollution left by the City's lazy, inadequate removal of temporary signs posted on the Sycamore trees which line N. Arroyo Blvd. just South of Seco Street.  The below photos depict the amount of pollution left by the city within the distance of merely five trees.

(The first picture seen below depicts the type of temporary signs posted throughout the Arroyo with plastic wrap.  The last photo depicts the plastic which the city disregarded and left as pollution on Arroyo Blvd.-- within a span of no more than five Sycamore trees.)

Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that the City of Pasadena's "cleanup" protocol after major Rose Bowl events remains as inadequate as ever.  It is clear that city workers are not properly trained or not properly held accountable for protecting Pasadena's environment, and that the City of Pasadena itself remains a significant contributor to the ongoing degradation and plastic pollution of the Arroyo Seco.