Cover image by Alexander Gibertson©. Image above by Clem Onojeghuo ©

Cover image by Alexander Gibertson©. Image above by Clem Onojeghuo ©


The initiation of “Adult Sippy Cups”: A genuine attempt to decrease global waste production or a tactic of big business?

 By Kristen Conti

With our world’s waste production reaching an all-time high in recent years, many companies are attempting to combat the issue; Starbucks being one of those companies. The $2.9 billion enterprise claims to allegedly care about the environment being at risk, and therefore plans to take action the only way they know how: by eliminating plastic straws, or should I say, attempting to. 

In July of 2018, Starbucks announced that they would eradicate all plastic straws and replace them with “adult sippy cup” lids. And they weren’t kidding. One of the most crucial parts of my morning routine consists of grabbing an iced caramel macchiato on my way to work. However, one day last summer, something changed. For someone who looks forward to the ice-cold wave of coffee that rushes through the thin plastic portal, otherwise known as a straw, this change was rather drastic, and not very welcomed. I was no longer handed my coffee in a plastic cup that had a small perforated hole, accessible for one of those green straws. Now, I was given my drink in an actual sippy cup; an angled cover with an enlarged hole at the tip for consumption. At first, I was confused, and then it was all over Twitter. Starbucks had changed the game, and for real this time.

In attempt to eliminate an estimated amount of 1 billion plastic straws used globally each year, the brand decided to take the first step to replace certain drinks’ covers with sippy cup lids. As a person who genuinely cares about the environment, I find it admirable for such a successful brand to diverge from what they are used to in order to mend the excessive number of plastics that end up in landfills and the ocean every day. Though this meant change, to me, the cause made it worthy.

Considering the United States is the #1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person and about 5% of the world’s people generate nearly 40% of the world’s waste, Starbucks has the right intention here, as do several other companies and restaurants following in their footsteps worldwide. Over 1,300 McDonald’s chains in the UK are implementing similar initiatives by excluding plastic straws available to customers. In fact, even entire cities, like Seattle and Malibu, are not only getting rid of plastic straws, but also many other single-use plastics like take-out containers and utensils. 

And though the environmentally-friendly plans’ intentions are considerable, I’ve noticed something that just doesn’t seem right about the whole project. Starbucks only hands out sippy cup lids with certain coffee drinks. For instance, if you order a macchiato, you will sometimes receive a sippy cup lid. However, lattes and regular iced coffees are still enclosed with a conventional lid, accessible to a straw. And notice I said sometimes, because sometimes even macchiatos are still topped with a normal lid. So why are Starbucks chains stingy with these new lids? According to Starbucks, the most popular drinks are vanilla lattes, frappuccinos, pumpkin spice lattes, and regular iced/hot coffee. Do they only offer sippy lids to the least popular drinks, aka macchiatos, perhaps to avoid having to produce an abundance of them? Or are the baristas at Starbucks just forgetful? It ties in an even larger question for me: does Starbucks even really care that much about the environment?

It is wonderful for them to take steps towards improving global waste production by promoting the use of less plastic, however if they are inconsistent in their efforts, it seems a bit pointless. It is none other than a lazy approach, lacking any sense of urgency and care. If the brand truly cared, their efforts would prove it, and all this talk would be translated thoroughly. If their intentions were genuine, everyone holding an iced drink would be walking about with a so-called “adult sippy cup,” but they are not.

In fact, by creating these novel sippy cup creations, Starbucks factories are actually issuing even more plastic than they started with. The state-of-the-art sippy lid is thicker and has a sort of spout on its outer edge, where the sipping hole lies. To me, this process proves almost aimless, considering the amount of plastic the company must have used to test and try to eventually solidify the perfect new lid. At that point, why not just keep the straws?

Waiving plastic straw-use does not solve the much larger plastic problem, though it can be a start. However, how can campaigns be successful if they are not conscientiously carried out?

Maybe it’s not really an attempt to save the environment as much as it is a tactic of big business to make themselves look commendable by greenwashing. Maybe it’s just a clever attempt by Starbucks’ green PR and green marketing committees to reel people in and attract those who are devout to safeguarding the environment, only to then deceive them. After all, these days, global holidays such as Earth Day take up an entire week rather than just a single day, as there are over 1 billion participants from 192 countries, according to NBC News. It makes sense. In fact, it is genius! It is a brilliant advertising strategy to promote environmental activism for a company as prevalently acknowledged and prolific as Starbucks. Or maybe Starbucks does care and just have a strange way of showing it? Whatever the truth may be, I think it is safe to say that Starbucks, being the multi-billion-dollar business it is, will undoubtedly thrive regardless.