Starbucks wants some ideas, Greenpeace keeps on at Nestlé, why Easter eggs don’t need so much packaging, the EPA's small business awards, and Cambodia’s artisans bag

Prizes for coffee cup alternative

With 58bn paper coffee cups thrown away each year, Starbucks is taking steps to decrease this waste.

Starbucks receives more customer comments about reducing paper cup waste than any other environmental issue. In line with its goal to serve all drinks in reusable or recyclable cups by 2015, the coffee giant is sponsoring an open, international contest called the betacup challenge, which aims to reduce the number of non-recyclable cups by creating a convenient alternative.

What’s unique about the challenge is that it harnesses the power of the public’s creativity to come up with the best solution. Anyone can submit their idea on, which is then open to public comments and ratings. Betacup recommends that submitters consider key issues like waste reduction, resources required, new or existing capabilities, and how well the idea will prompt mass adoption. The contest launched on April 1 and will close on June 15. A jury will select the winner, who will be awarded $10,000 from Starbucks. The top five ideas chosen by community ratings will share a further $10,000 prize.

“In addition to working with local municipal governments, materials suppliers and cup manufacturers to improve recycling infrastructures, we believe in harnessing the creativity of environmentally conscious individuals to identify new alternatives,” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental impact.

New app turns on ethical consumers

If you ever find yourself in the supermarket pondering the merits of buying the pricier organic almonds versus the generic, the new Barcoo app may be able to help. Invented by a group of young German techies, the free mobile app scans a product’s barcode and connects your phone to information about it, including price comparisons, health information and – the kicker – the product maker’s corporate responsibility efforts.

Barcoo is the first app to identify businesses’ corporate responsibility credentials, which it assembles from a variety of sources such as company statements, studies and user feedback. As a result, it can reveal whether a company is a leader or laggard in sustainability, and help consumers to shop more ethically.

“We realised the information is on the internet but not accessible when you really need it: while you are shopping,” says Benjamin Thym, one of the creators of Barcoo.

Not surprisingly, the new app has some people miffed, claiming it does not guarantee that consumers receive a full picture of the company and can therefore be misleading. Thym explains that the app always discloses the sources so users can easily make a judgment. Plus, he says, “some ethical information is normally better than none”, but the app’s creators are working hard to enhance the scope of information available.

The app is currently only available in Germany but the company plans to launch in the UK and France this August.

Hanes uses recycled bottles for fleece and socks

Hanes clothing is in nine out of ten American households. So it’s nice to see that the company is making a push to showcase its environmental responsibility efforts in its products. Hanes has developed a new EcoSmart polyester fibre made from recycled plastic bottles, with each pound (0.45kg) using the equivalent of 16 plastic bottles. Hanes is also making EcoSmart socks using 55% recycled cotton fibre, and is looking to incorporate the eco-friendly fibre into more garments.

The company is making sure its EcoSmart polyester is credible, requiring a letter of authenticity from its suppliers that guarantees 100% recycled material. In 2010, Hanes hopes to make fleece garments using the equivalent of 25m recycled plastic bottles.

Greenpeace still targets Kit-Kat

Greenpeace International is keeping up the pressure on Nestlé in a new pressure campaign against the Kit-Kat chocolate bar. The activist group has targeted the world’s largest food and drinks company for its use of palm oil from Indonesian suppliers who destroy rainforests, threatening the endangered orangutan and the livelihoods of the local people.

According to Greenpeace, Nestlé has almost doubled its use of palm oil in the past three years, up to about 320,000 tonnes. In particular, the non-profit group red-flagged Sinar Mas, the largest producer of palm oil in Indonesia, which supplies numerous food and drink companies worldwide, including Nestlé.

Nestlé immediately responded to the campaign, announcing it would cut ties with Sinar Mas. And before the campaign even began, Nestle committed to using only “certified sustainable palm oil” in its products by 2015 (as discussed in the December/January CRwatch).

But for Greenpeace, that isn’t enough. “Nestlé will continue to use Sinar Mas palm oil in its products, including Kit-Kat, because its other palm oil suppliers – such as Cargill – buy from Sinar Mas,” Greenpeace says on its website. Greenpeace is asking consumers to help push the company to fully remove palm oil from its supply chains by engaging with the palm oil industry and Indonesian government, calling for peatland protection and an immediate end to deforestation.

UPDATE: Things have changed. Greenpeace posted an update on the campaign on 17/05/10 here.

EPA awards small businesses

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $2.38m to 34 small science and technology businesses working to develop and commercialise new environmental technologies. The awards are part of the EPA’s annual small business innovation research programme, which exclusively awards cash to companies with fewer than 500 employees, and which are at least 51% owned by US citizens.

Eligible projects run the gamut and include innovation in green buildings, greenhouse gas reduction, nanotechnology, homeland security, manufacturing innovation, waste management and water infrastructure. Projects are awarded up to $80,000 for Phase I, a six-month period to test the scientific merit and feasibility of the proposed concept. Projects that make the cut are in the running for Phase II, which awards $300,000-$370,000 over two years to continue technology development for commercialisation.

For example, one of the awarded projects seeks to develop a novel but safe, chromium-free, solvent-free and corrosion-resistant coating for commercial use. The aim is to significantly reduce workers’ and communities’ exposure to hazardous air pollutant materials, making a product that’s much more environmentally (not to mention economically) friendly.

The EPA is one of 11 federal agencies participating in the SBIR programme, established more than two decades ago.

Easter egg packaging

Easter egg packaging is trimming down in the UK, but it is still too hefty, according to the Easter Egg Packaging: Annual Progress Report 2010. Led by Jo Swinson, a Scottish Liberal-Democrat member of the UK parliament, the report is in its fourth year and ranks ten big brand and supermarket-branded Easter eggs. In addition to evaluating the weight and volume of eggs’ packaging, this year the report also calculates what percentage of the packaging is recyclable.

“Easter eggs are one of the more obvious examples of over-packaging in the food industry, and their annual appearance on supermarket shelves provides a good opportunity to review what progress has been made in the year gone by,” Swinson says.

Nestlé was the only company whose Easter egg packaging was 100% widely recycled. Sainsbury’s had the most efficient packaging but it was also the least recyclable of the bunch. Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Guylian and Green & Black’s all produced packaging deemed 100% recyclable, but which also contain plastic that is not widely recycled. Guylian produced the most excessively packaged egg this year, with the chocolate taking up a measly 9% of its box.

But there is some sweeter news: increasing numbers of the chocolate eggs are being wrapped in foil alone, including Cadbury’s Eco-Eggs, Lindt’s chocolate bunnies and Nestlé’s Milkybar hollow chocolate cow. This means less packaging and therefore less in the way of carbon emissions. Yum.

Funk from junk

Carpe Diem Travel is making a difference on the ground – literally. The London-based non-profit tour operator began its FunkyJunk social enterprise in Cambodia, its most popular tourism destination, to offer locals a sustainable income and rid the landscape of plastic bag waste by employing locals to turn the bags into clever everyday items.

The programme resulted from the founders’ experience volunteering in the country, where they saw the scarcity of jobs and the amount of litter, particularly plastic bags. In speaking with the locals they learned that other rubbish, such as plastic bottles and tin cans, could be sold to recycling companies but no facility existed for bags.

Enter FunkyJunk. To make their wares, plastic bags are collected by rubbish pickers and brought to the FunkyJunk centre where they are washed, disinfected and dried in the sun. The bags are then sorted by colour and made into yarn, which is crocheted into a range of sellable goodies such as storage jars, waste baskets, plant pot covers and patio cushions.

Products are made by community groups, locals who are trained for two weeks by existing FunkyJunk producers. The groups are led by a local project manager and supported by the FunkyJunk cooperative board, comprised of volunteers with business and NGO backgrounds. Carpe Diem Travel also brings fair trade experts in to ensure the business is adhering to international best practices.

FunkyJunk products are sold through the Artisans Association of Cambodia and directly to hotels, schools and small local fair trade stores. They have made their first two shipments to Australia and hope to get business in the UK. All profits are reinvested in projects that help the local Cambodian community and the environment.

Founder Debbie Watkins says: “By creating a self-sustaining enterprise we use business best practice as a means to improve peoples’ living environment, while helping them gain a source of income and build a stronger sense of self-worth.”

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