Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Starbuck's Little Green Sticks

So, I'm at Starbucks the other day getting my morning coffee.

When they gave me my pipin' hot cup, I also had the option of taking a little green stick with a wide bit at the end, to put into the hole in the plastic lid on my cup. It's a nice looking little stick, with a mermaid at the end.

At first glance, this stick is brilliant. After years of walking around with my cup, facing the danger of hot coffee jumping out of the cup and onto my hand, Starbucks had found a way to protect me and my tender skin. (Or shirt, which has also frequently been the victim of a coffee escape.)

I had been thinking about this coffee spillage situation recently, when I had gone to a Tim Horton's, which uses the old school folding-back lid for its cups. This prevents splashing when you're carrying around the coffee, but it gives you a potentially sharp edge when you're drinking, which isn't entirely pleasant. Timmy had focussed on convenience while Starbucks had focussed on the drinking experience.

Upon further consideration, this stick is just a little bit of a terrible idea. First, let's say I do grab one of the sticks to keep my coffee from spilling on me while I drive. Now, when I decide to remove the stick to drink my coffee, what am I supposed to do with the stick? It's now dirty from being in my coffee, so I don't really want to put it on my car, but it can't stay in the cup if I'm going to drink. They seemed to consider the portability issue without actually considering that someone would at some point want to actually drink their coffee.

Secondly, the place where the sticks were kept was an open container at the counter where they give you your coffee. (I didn't get a photo of that.) It's conveniently placed, but isn't everyone's hand going into that container. And then your stick is going in the coffee, which you're about to drink. Ick. Not terribly sanitary.

Then there's my biggest issue with this - it's just added crap. I know, I should be taking my own reusable cup to Starbucks. I feel actually a little guilty about this. But I don't think that Starbucks should be adding another hunk of plastic to the tens of millions of cups of coffee that they must sell every day. Even if only 10% of customers take one of these cup plugs, it will still be a massive number.

Chris Jordan's art is a great way of demonstrating the truth behind huge numbers. If you haven't seen it, check out his talk at TED, where he shows what the 40 million paper cups used each day in the US look like. It's about about 1:50 into this video.

Now, imagine 4 million little green stir sticks. Non-biodegradable. Non-recyclable. Or, even if they are recyclable, what percent would actually make it into a blue box.

I'm personally a little stunned that Starbucks would try to roll this out. Maybe I was just in a test market. I can't imagine that they'd go forward with this. I can't imagine that they can't figure out a better way to stop the coffee from spilling out of the cup. And I can't imagine that they'd be so deaf to the level of garbage that they create that they'd carry on with this idea.

Was the green stick a good solution to the specific problem of coffee jumping out of the cup? Yes. Was it a good solution that helped consumer usage, that left a positive brand impression, and that took into account the larger impact that the company has in the world. No, no and no.

btw - this morning, July 17, I have discovered the sticks in a Starbucks in SF. So it clearly wasn't a test run. Pity.


macfarbt said...

Saw those a few months ago in New York, thought they were just a plug but seeing it's a whole plastic stick seems unnecessary, impractical for most and plain awkward. Especially given the huge amount of effort they exerted just to make a 10% recycled cup.

Anonymous said...

I received my first green stick today in Chicago and I'm an avid Starbucks visiter. For me, Starbucks is expensive enough so I don't appreciate any unwanted add-on that's going to jack up the price. I also agree- this stick goes from my hands to the garbage in about 20 seconds. Do we really need more unnecessary landfill?

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Anonymous said...

in some countries, you dont walk with coffee, you just sit and drink, such a minor shift in culture and think of all the cups, tops and 'plugs' saved

123 123 said...

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morestar said...

This article about Tim Hortons and the cleanliness of it's lid while being handled by their employees. I thought it had some valid points.

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Kimber Spores said...

What I do is place the stick in between the brown sleeve and my cup. It's a mess free solution.

Kimber Spores said...

What I do is place the stick in between the brown sleeve and my cup. It's a mess free solution.