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New Starbucks cups reduce plastic and water waste while bettering accessibility to the visually impaired

Critics call out plastics industry over recycling "fraud"
Critics call out plastics industry over recycling "fraud" 05:02

Starbucks unveiled a new cup lineup that the company says will keep more than 13.5 million pounds of plastic out of landfills every year. The new cups, announced ahead of Earth Day, are made with up to 20% less plastic and will require less water to make, but come amid a new report that found plastic production continues to pose a major problem, producing more emissions than even the aviation industry. 

The company's Seattle-based innovation lab developed the new cups, which will be used for cold drink purchases. The cups will require 10% to 20% less plastic to make, depending on the size, when compared to previous cold drink cups. 

"They're not only made with less plastic than previous cold cups, they are also projected to reduce emissions and conserve water in the production process," the company said in its announcement. "... And they cost less to make." 

These are the first single-use cups designed in the innovation lab to specifically be more sustainable. It was done in an effort to meet the company's goal of slashing its carbon, water and waste footprints in half within the next six years. The company says it estimates redesign will help reduce emissions the equivalent of 5,200 cars and will save roughly 2,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. They will also take 13.5 million pounds of plastic out of landfills annually, the company said.

The cups are also made to be more accessible to those who are visually impaired. Starbucks said they feature raised dots to help differentiate the sizes and that the printed fill lines on the cups that indicate measurements were made black and white to allow for better contrast. 

Minimizing plastic usage is essential in addressing the climate crisis, researchers say. A new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory details that researchers found plastic production emits as much carbon pollution as 600 coal-fired plants every year and accounts for roughly 12% of the global oil demand. 

In 2019, global plastic production generated 2.24 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, far more than the 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions generated by the aviation industry that same year, according to the report. 

And those emissions could triple by 2050, researchers said, even as experts continue to warn that minimizing emissions is essential to reduce global warming. Greenhouse gases are what work to trap heat in the atmosphere, increasing global temperatures that then fuel extreme weather conditions, sea level rise and more.

"Even in scenarios where global power grids are decarbonized, this could increase the plastic industry's share of the global carbon budget from a little more than 5% today to more than 20%, assuming even the most modest estimates for industry growth," a press release from the lab says. "Industry analysts expect plastic production to at least double by 2050."

Heather McTeer Toney, executive director of Beyond Petrochemicals, said in a statement that the continued growth of the plastics industry "is undermining the world's efforts to address climate change." 

"Plastic pollution has become an increasing threat to natural ecosystems, human health and climate," an executive summary of the report says. "... Alternative materials used also need to be recyclable in a sustainable and climate-friendly manner. Designing products with reuse, repair and remanufacturing in mind is another important consideration to reduce climate impacts." 

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