April 1, 2007
Starbucks' 2-faced environmentalism
By CATHERINE CURAN
April 1, 2007 -- Java giant Starbucks this weekend is fending off criticism that it is serving up cupfulls of hypocrisy along with its popular coffee.
The retailer brags about supporting global clean-water projects - it donates 5 cents for every bottle of its Ethos water sold - but it quietly helped kill an expansion of the nickel-per-bottle deposit law right here in New York.
The result of the unexpanded bottle bill is millions of plastic water bottles filling landfills, littering the streets and harming marine life, say conservation groups, which pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, for expanding nickel deposits to include bottled water and sports drinks.
"I find it ironic that Starbucks will donate a nickel to help third-world countries," says Barbara Toborg, conservation coordinator of the Littoral Society, which is organizing volunteers to pick up unrecycled water bottles and other trash from Brooklyn's Plum Beach next month.
"I'd rather they advocated for a nickel deposit on containers here in New York," she said. The Container Recycling Institute claims that less than 20 percent of non-deposit bottles are recycled.
Seattle-based Starbucks became a player in New York politics through the machinations of its water distributor, PepsiCo, which has begun a rollout of Ethos to 100,000 locations.
Pepsi last year shelled out $75,000 to a major Albany lobbyist that worked to defeat the bottle bill expansion, public records show.
Through political action committees, Pepsi also gave $50,000 to the New York State Senate Republican Committee, whose lead voice, Republican Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, has vocally opposed making water and sports drinks bottles redeemable.
The category was not popular enough to warrant inclusion in the original bill 25 years ago but is growing much faster than soda as health-conscious consumers increasingly shun the fizzy, sweet stuff.
Sales of bottled water grew 8.9 percent last year to $10.9 billion, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp.
Starbucks sells Ethos for $1.80 per 23.6-ounce bottle. Starbucks, however, donates less than 3 percent of the purchase price, while using huge amounts of fossil fuel to create and ship Ethos bottles.
PepsiCo, which fought the expanded bottle bill, said beverage containers make up only 4% of the waste stream.
"To have a real impact on the environment, we believe the state should address recycling in a comprehensive way by focusing on 100% of the waste stream rather than beverage containers alone," it said.