Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Mississippi River Pulp and Starbucks were recognized with a “Beyond the Package Award” at this year’s Greener Package Award competition.

The multi-company application demonstrated the value of collaboration in bringing about substantial sustainable change by successfully partnering to pilot cup-to-cup and cup-to-napkin recycling processes for single-serve, coated hot cups.

In 2009, Starbucks publicly announced a goal to make 100 percent of its cups – that's 4 billion cups globally each year – recyclable or reusable by 2015. To many consumers, who held heightened expectations, a five- to six-year time frame seemed like a feeble attempt.

Starbucks Director of Environmental Impact Jim Hanna shares one customer's initial response, "Why do they think it will take five years to do what any kindergartener around the world can already do every day?"

But Starbucks' initiative was far more challenging than any kindergartener could imagine. Despite the 54 billion cups produced annually in the United States, many municipal recycling facilities and recycled paper mills do not accept coated cups. That’s because many recycling facilities are concerned about food contamination, ability to separate the polyethylene coating from the paper, the presence of kraft sleeves on bleached cups, plastics lids and more.

To work toward a solution, Starbucks held a Cup Summit to bring together all the participants in their value chain, including competitive brands. Common values and goals were identified at the summit, and Starbucks kicked off several pilot cup recycling programs in collaboration with Georgia-Pacific, Mississippi River Pulp and International Paper.

In Starbucks stores in Chicago and Seattle, cups were collected and then successfully recycled back into Starbucks cups and napkins. “What we discovered is that all those barriers were really just perceived,” said Hanna.

While all of us are still on a journey to reach the ultimate goal that cups are universally accepted as an everyday recyclable commodity, Georgia-Pacific and the other companies are especially proud to be honored by the Greener Package Award judges for the achievements and for the unprecedented levels of engagement with the non-traditional partnership.