How much money have you spent at Starbucks? A couple of thousand dollars maybe? If the number in your head is too large to bear then maybe it is time to try your hand at design.

Sustainable and environmentally friendly design to be more specific. Starbucks is aware of how well money works as a motivator and has decided to offer a whole $10 million dollars to the person who is able to solve the environmental disaster that is their cups.

Wait, what cups?

We are not talking about the plastic numbers that hold the Instagram-famous Frappuccinos. Those certainly are a problem, but this challenge is centered around the cardboard cups that can be seen littering the streets of most major cities.

These cups may seem sustainable as they are made out of cardboard. But if you scratch just beneath the surface you will find a very thin layer of plastic.

The main function is to maintain the integrity of the cup as well as the heat of the liquid. It is this layer that makes the cups a nightmare to recycle.

Let’s talk scary numbers

In a single year, Starbucks distributes 600 billion of these cups around the world. A startling number even for Bezos’ standards.

Of these cups, the mega-company can only account for 6 billion. The other 99% of the cups are left to the consumer to dispose of.

In cities like Washington DC, Seattle, New York, and San Francisco this does not present as such a major issue as they have the facilities to properly recycle the only 10% of materials that are recyclable.

Any cup that does not fall in these areas can only decompose after 20 years.

The promises they made

The problem that these cups present is not news to Starbucks. They have been aware of the problem since at least before 2010 when they made a pledge to ensure the total reusability or recyclability of each cup within the next 5 years.

Clearly, this did not happen. Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks, has claimed that the company has and has always had an agenda regarding social impact.

But considering the facts and figures, this agenda may be one that exists in name alone.

Starbucks is not alone here

It can be easy and tempting to pick a single villain and then to target all ire in their direction. But in the case of offending cups, Starbucks cannot be solely to blame.

The #Bettercups hashtag that did the rounds had much more than just Starbucks in its sights.  Other targets including McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts to name but a few.

These companies have responded to environmental groups such as with pledges of their own. McDonald’s said that their cups will be recyclable by 2025 while Dunkin Donuts has made a similar claim but set the target year as 2020.

It seems like it’s a race to the finish for these companies, maybe that’s why Starbucks has recruited a couple of million other people to help them get the job done.