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Would President Schultz do anything to stop the environmental nightmare he helped create at Starbucks?

Would President Schultz do anything to stop the environmental nightmare he helped create at Starbucks?
Former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz is considering running for U.S. president as an independent candidate. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether longtime Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz should run for president in 2020, what his odds are and if his third-party status would help or harm President Trump’s bid for reelection.

I don’t care about any of that. The only thing I want to know is whether the billionaire barista king regrets his role in the environmental degradation of the planet, and what he plans to do to make up for it.

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That’s right. Starbucks’ more than 28,000 coffee outlets are a major contributor to plastic pollution, distributing 6 billion — that is not a typo! — disposable paper and plastic cups every year. Most of those come with plastic lids and many with plastic straws as well. Very little of this waste is ever recycled. Even Starbucks’ paper cups are a problem, because they are coated with a thin layer of plastic to avoid leakage.

And what has been the response from the company under Schultz’s stewardship to the growing realization of the harm that single-use plastic is having on animals and the environment? Just about enough to not look like a complete jerk.

Oh, Starbucks purports to be environmentally hip. It’s funding an effort to develop a “greener” cup and recently started selling cheaper plastic reusable cups alongside the wildly expensive stainless steel and ceramic versions. But ask yourself this: How often do you see someone actually ordering their venti caramel macchiato or other Starbucks drink in a reusable cup? (If you have spotted such a person in the Los Angeles area, there’s a good chance it was me. In all the years of filling my weekend coffee frappuccino fix in a reusable cup, I can count the times on one hand that I have witnessed another person doing the same.)

When Starbucks jumped on the anti-straw bandwagon this summer, that was good, of course. But as part of the transition, it started handing out extra-large plastic lids that resemble sippy cup tops for some cold beverages.

A photo illustration shows the extra-large plastic lid for some Starbucks cups.
A photo illustration shows the extra-large plastic lid for some Starbucks cups. (Eva Hambach / AFP/Getty Images)

As I pointed out at the time, it was literally the least the company could do to reduce plastic waste. It’s hard to tell from the pictures if there will be an appreciable effect from this move, other than to give the coffee seller some environmental cred it doesn’t yet deserve.

I’d expect more from the man who has gone out of his way to be a decent employer, paying workers above minimum wage, giving them company stock and sick leave (hard to believe that’s not standard), and even helping them obtain higher educational degrees, though it’s likely it will lead them to other jobs.

If Starbucks’ half-measure on straws is representative of Schultz’s environmental leadership on a crisis he helped create, I’m just not interested in anything else he has to say.

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