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By Daniela Penha and Roberto Cataldo, Translator

This story was produced via a co-publishing partnership between Mongabay and Repórter Brasil and can be read in Portuguese here.

At first sight, the Córrego das Almas farm in Piumhi, in rural Minas Gerais state, seems to be a model property. "No slave or forced labor is allowed," reads one of several signs that display international certifications—including one linked to the U.S. based company Starbucks corporation.

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Acting Sub Lt.niwat Thumma / EyeEm / Getty Images

The movement to ban plastic straws has gained major momentum this month, with Seattle's ban going into effect July 1 and companies like Starbucks, Hyatt and American Airlines all agreeing to phase the sucking devices out as well.

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The new strawless lids that will replace straws in Starbucks worldwide. Starbucks

Starbucks announced Monday it would become the largest food and beverage retailer to phase out plastic straws, aiming to complete the process at locations worldwide by 2020, CNN Money reported. The decision will remove more than one billion straws from circulation annually, the company said.

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Shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong. Nicholas Wang / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Starbucks is being pressured to cut ties with popular Hong Kong restaurant chain Maxim's Caterers Limited over its offering of dishes with shark fin.

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Costa Coffee at Aberdeen Airport. Vincent Li / Flickr

Costa Coffee pledged on Wednesday to become the first coffee chain in the UK to recycle the same volume of takeaway cups they put onto the market.

"Our new initiative will mean that for every Costa takeaway cup we sell, we will aim to ensure that one is recycled," the British multinational coffeehouse touted.

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By Davis Harper

Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.

With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.

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By Raina Lang

Editor's note: Sept. 29 marks National Coffee Day in the U.S. Throughout September, Human Nature is publishing a series of reports on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition working to make coffee the world's first sustainable agricultural product. This post is the second in the series.

This story follows Conservation International's (CI) director of sustainable coffee markets, Raina Lang, to Guatemala, with Mattea Fleischner, manager on Starbucks' global social impact team. They were in the country to see how coffee trees are grown and delivered to farmers as part of the "One Tree for Every Bag" commitment, which has raised enough funds to plant more than 30 million new coffee trees. The commitment is part of a nearly 20-year partnership between CI and Starbucks.

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More than 365 businesses and investors, from more than a dozen Fortune 500 firms to small, family-owned businesses across more than 35 states, sent a strong message today to President Barack Obama, President-elect Donald Trump and other elected U.S. and global leaders, reaffirming their support for the historic Paris climate agreement and the need to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy at home and around the world.

"Implementing the Paris climate agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy prosperity to all," wrote the powerful business group, in a statement of support at a press conference at the COP22 climate negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco. "Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk."

Among the diverse and iconic large and small U.S. businesses signing the statement are DuPont, Gap Inc., General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hilton, HP Inc., Kellogg Company, Levi Strauss & Co., L'Oreal USA, NIKE, Mars Incorporated, Schneider Electric, Starbucks, VF Corporation and Unilever.

"Now more than ever, Levi Strauss & Co. believes it is important to reaffirm our commitment to address climate change by supporting the Paris climate agreement," Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., said. "Building an energy-efficient economy in the U.S., powered by low-carbon energy will ensure our nation's competitiveness and position U.S. companies as leaders in the global market—all while doing the right thing for our planet."

The U.S., China, India, Brazil, European Union and more than 100 other nations representing more than three-fourths of global emissions formally ratified or joined the agreement, and it entered into legal force on Nov. 4. The agreement is the first-ever global, legally binding framework to tackle climate change.

In the statement, the large and small businesses pledged to do their part, in their own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris climate agreement's commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below two-degrees Celsius.

They are calling on elected U.S. leaders to strongly support:

  • Continuation of low-carbon policies in order to allow the U.S. to meet or exceed its promised national commitments.
  • Investment in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad in order to give financial decision-makers clarity and boost investor confidence.
  • Continued U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement in order to provide the long-term direction needed to limit global warming.

"The enormous momentum generated by the business and investment community to address climate change cannot be reversed and cannot be ignored by the Trump administration. That train has left the station and to stand in its way is folly," Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management, said.

"Nevertheless, we know that now is the time to remind the incoming administration that virtually every company in the Fortune 500 and over $100 trillion in investor assets has acknowledged the reality of climate change and the need to address it head on," Patsky concluded.

The U.S. is the world's leading consumer of coffee, with Americans drinking some 400 million cups of coffee each day. But, drinking coffee can be detrimental to people and the planet, and the industry says it will cost $4 billion and take decades to make the entire sector sustainable.

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For all the Starbucks customers who have been asking for almond milk as a non-dairy option, your voice has been heard. Almond milk is coming to more than 4,600 U.S. Starbucks stores starting Sept. 6.

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Almond milk will become Starbucks third non-dairy offering. Soy milk was introduced in 2004, followed by coconut milk in 2015.

Customer demand for almond milk—or "almondmilk" as Starbucks calls it—was by far the most popular request on My Starbucks Idea, a platform for crowdsourcing customer and barista suggestions, where thousands of ideas are submitted and voted on each year.

"More than half (58 percent) of all U.S. adults consume non-dairy milk, and almondmilk is the most popular option with 60 percent of the non-dairy market, according to Mintel Data, which tracks grocery shopping habits," Starbucks said in a press release.

Wondering what other ingredients will be added to the almond milk?

According to Starbucks, their "almondmilk" has "light almond notes without any added flavoring. An 8-ounce serving has just 3 grams of sugar, compared with 12-13 grams of naturally occurring sugar in 2 percent dairy milk. It can be used in any handcrafted Starbucks beverage for an additional 60 cent charge."

Yoke Wong, manager on Starbucks beverage R&D team, said, "We created our own almondmilk recipe to complement our hot, iced and Frappuccino blended beverages. It was designed so that when steamed, it creates a rich foam for hot beverages and is delicious and creamy when served in cold beverages."

Clearly, many Starbucks customers are exciting about this new announcement. Here are a few celebratory tweets:

Adding non-dairy alternatives to their menu isn't the only idea Starbucks is implementing. As EcoWatch reported last month, the world's largest coffee chain is testing recyclable coffee cups in UK stores.

Starbucks goes through 4 billion to-go cups annually but most of them end up in the landfill. Why? Even though these cups are mostly made of paper, these single-use items are almost never recycled or composted because they are lined with plastic.

Ninety-nine percent of paper cups in the UK do not get recycled. Flickr

Now, in somewhat of a no-brainer, the world's largest coffee chain is testing recyclable coffee cups in UK stores, the Guardian reported.

Frugalpac, the England-based company behind the cups, explains on its website that its product is made of 100 percent recycled, chemical-free paper and lined with a plastic film that can easily be removed by standard recycling facilities. These cups, which can be recycled up to seven times, can be placed in any newspaper or cardboard recycling bin. The company says the cups look and feel the same as the standard varieties.

"We are very interested in finding out more about the Frugalpac cup and we will be testing it to see if it meets our standards for safety and quality, with a view to trialling its recyclability," a Starbucks spokesman said, according to the Guardian. No word yet on when, or if, they will be implemented stateside.

According to the Guardian, Martin Myerscough, the inventor of the Frugalpac cup, wants to help curb the 2.5 billion cups used in the UK each year of which only one in 400 are recycled.

The dismal coffee cup recycling rate led to calls for a ban or tax on disposable coffee cups in March. While the two initiatives ultimately failed, campaigners are still taking action on these environmental pesks.

British chef and environmental activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will feature Frugalpac in his next War on Waste documentary on the BBC. In the documentary, Fearnley-Whittingstall explores why Britain's largest coffee chains—Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero—almost never recycle their mountains of discarded cups. One reason, he discovered, is that most people do not realize these cups do not get recycled or do not even recognize the problem.

Another reason, as Starbucks said in a 2014 statement, is that despite years of efforts, implementing a successful recycling program at its 24,000 stores around the world is harder than one might think:

Recycling seems like a simple, straightforward initiative but it's actually quite challenging. Our customers' ability to recycle our cups, whether at home, at work, in public spaces or in our stores, is dependent upon multiple factors, including local government policies and access to recycling markets such as paper mills and plastic processors.

Some communities readily recycle our paper and plastic cups, but with operations in 70 countries, Starbucks faces a patchwork of recycling infrastructure and market conditions. Additionally, in many of our stores landlords control the waste collection and decide whether or not they want to provide recycling. These challenges require recycling programs be customized to each store and market and may limit our ability to offer recycling in some stores.

Not only are there municipal barriers to successful recycling in many cities, but it takes significant changes in behavior to get it right. A few non-recyclable items in a recycle bin can render the entire bag unrecyclable to the hauler. For recycling to be successful, local municipalities, landlords, customers, baristas, and even adjacent businesses all have to work together to keep recyclable materials out of the landfill and non-recyclable materials out of recycling bins.

As coffee companies like Starbucks figure out how to slash their enormous coffee cup footprint, there's an easy thing you can do to help—bring your own mug.

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