DENVER -- Coffee drinkers toss away tens of millions of Starbucks cups each day.
But these cannot be recycled in Denver and most other cities. A thin, plastic lining that keeps coffee warm and slows disintegration sticks too tightly to the potentially valuable paper fiber. This means most of the estimated 4 billion cups a year sold by the company credited with creating the coffee-on-the-go culture worldwide end up in landfills.
Forest activists campaigning to cut consumer waste dramatized the problem this week after launching a trash-tracking project in Denver. Using golf ball-sized beacons stuck into cups, they confirmed that paper containers tossed in recycling bins at Starbucks landed in the dump.
"Consumers may think they are recycling, but it is ending up in a landfill. This bothers me," said Susan Gallo, part of a team that conducted the tracking for Stand.earth, a group based in Bellingham, Wash. "Companies need to take responsibility."
The coffee-cup conundrum reflects rising frustrations as Americans try to recycle more of their waste in order to reduce environmental harm -- from cutting down trees to contaminating oceans with plastic. When waste cannot be recycled, sorting companies send it to landfills. About 9 percent of the waste that Denver residents put in purple municipal recycling bins eventually ends up in landfills.