Plastic is taking over the ocean …That Cup Could Choke a Dolphin in 50 Years

By Annie Jiang ‘19

Summertime is finally here, and that means cold iced coffee and strawberry acai lemonade refreshers from Starbucks. But what that also means is more plastic and paper cups that end up in landfills and oceans.

Every year, over four billion Starbucks cups are sent to landfills, according to EcoWatch, instead of being recycled. In landfills, these cups persist for decades and take long amounts of time to biodegrade.

“In landfills, very little oxygen can penetrate piles of garbage, which means that planet-warming methane is emitted from decomposing cups. They affect the environment years beyond its original disposal,” according to, an organization that advocates for Starbucks to make recyclable cups through the #BetterCup.

When these cups eventually decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas, that contributes to global warming. Many Starbucks cups, lids, and straws also end up in oceans, contributing to the eight million tons of plastic dumped in oceans annually, according to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a non-profit organization. This can be dangerous when sea creatures mistake the plastic for food, which can lead to ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement, according to Clean Water Action.

Imagine swimming in an ocean with more plastic than fish. Well, in 47 years, you won’t have to imagine it because it will be a reality. In 2050, there will be more plastic in oceans than fish, according to the World Economic Forum in their report “The New Plastics Economy”.

These cups are not only harming the environment through the way they are being disposed of but also through the way they are being manufactured. These cups are made from fresh cut trees, and in order to make them, Starbucks cuts down more than one million trees each year and uses large amounts of water. The water used to manufacture these cups are contaminated with chemicals, which pollutes waterways, according to

Although these cups are made mostly out of paper, they are not being recycled because of its plastic lining, which requires special equipment to recycle.

“This is particularly wasteful since paper cups are made from a very high-quality paper and, if recycled, could be reused multiple times,” according to

This crisis can’t be solved by waiting on Starbucks or the government to act on their own. According to, Starbucks promised to make a fully recyclable cup by 2015, yet we still don’t see that change. Starbucks also promised to encourage 25 percent of its customers to use reusable mugs, but only 1.6 percent of their customers use them. The only way there can be real change is with the customers themselves.

I know what you’re thinking: Does this mean that I can’t have my vanilla latte anymore?

No, you can continue enjoying your favorite Starbucks drink, but there are alternatives you might want to consider in reducing your environmental footprint.

BYOC: bring your own cup. Since 1985, Starbucks has been giving discounts to customers who bring their own cups. You can save ten cents for every drink you buy at Starbucks just by bringing a mason jar or cup. Not only are you reducing plastic waste, but you’re also saving money. If you don’t want to bring a cup, however, you can always purchase a reusable cup at Starbucks for $2.

Iced coffee should be enjoyed in the park on a nice warm summer afternoon, but not to destroy the one planet we live on.

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