Starbucks Wastes Millions of Litres of Water A Day

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Starbucks Wastes Millions of Litres of Water A Day

Coffee giant's running-tap policy contradicts its claimed green credentials

by
Angela Balakrishnan

Starbucks signs are seen outside one of its stores in New York July 3, 2008. (Chip East/Reuters)

Environmental campaigners have
attacked Starbucks after the discovery that millions of litres of water
are wasted in its coffee shops every day, contradicting its
much-boasted green credentials.

An investigation by the Sun
revealed that over 23.4m litres of water are poured down the drains of
10,000 outlets worldwide due to a policy of keeping a tap running
non-stop.

It is enough daily water for the entire 2 million
population of Namibia in Africa, which has severe droughts, or to fill
an Olympic pool every 83 minutes.

A single Starbucks tap left
running for just over three minutes wastes the amount of water one
African needs to survive for a day in drought conditions.

Each Starbucks has a cold tap behind the counter that runs into a sink known as a "dipper well" - used to wash utensils.

Under
the company's health and safety rules, staff are banned from turning
the water off because management claim that a constant flow of water
prevents germs breeding in taps.

Water companies joined green
activists in criticising the firm for harming the environment and
wasting a vital natural resource. Experts said leaving taps running for
hygiene reasons was "nonsense".

Water shortage is one of the
world's biggest problems. Australia is in the grip of a seven-year
drought - the worst in a century.

In the UK, Starbucks has 698
branches, each open for 13 hours a day. Even a slow tap flows three
litres of water a minute, meaning Starbucks in the UK is wasting an
estimated 1.63m litres a day - enough to supply Matlock village in
Derbyshire.

The running water policy was revealed after a
Starbucks executive wrote back to a couple who complained about the tap
at their local branch.

Lisa Woolfe, 39, of Cuffley,
Hertfordshire, said: "I noticed a small sink behind the counter had its
tap running. The assistant said the store was told to keep it running
as it cleaned the pipes.

"I could not believe it but when we contacted head office, they confirmed the taps were left on and the water was not recycled.

"It is an absolutely astonishing waste of water, especially for a company which prides itself on its green credentials."

Speaking
to staff at Starbucks outlets around the world, the Sun found that many
did not use the running tap or even know what it was for.

Peter
Robinson, of the environmental charity Waste Watch, said: "Leaving taps
running all day is a shocking waste of precious water. And to claim you
are doing it for health and safety reasons is bonkers.

"Tap water
comes from rivers and groundwater and wasting it can cause great harm
to the environment and wildlife. Big companies should set an example."

Jacob
Tompkins, of the independent water efficiency agency Water Wise, said:
"If they are doing all their basic cleaning procedures, I fail to see
why they would need to do this. There are a lot of other ways to stop a
build-up of bacteria.

"The chance of a build-up in the spout is extremely remote. And if there is one they're not cleaning the tap properly."

Ian
Barker, the head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said:
"We are already taking too much water from the environment and are
seeing reduced river flows."

A spokeswoman for Starbucks said
that the company's water use adhered to the World Health Organisation,
US and EU environmental directives for in-store water supply standards.
But she acknowledged the company could cut its water use.

She defended its dipper well system, saying the technique was common and accepted in the industry.

"Starbucks'
challenge is to balance water conservation with the need for customer
safety," the spokeswoman said. "The dipper well system currently in use
in Starbucks retail stores ensures that we meet or exceed our own and
local health standards."

She said the company had tested
alternative methods such as the use of an ice bath but it was not
successful. It was considering other alternatives and cut its water use
per square foot this year.

Starbucks is known for its campaigns and instore advertising boasting how it gives back to communities and the environment.

In
the company's latest corporate social responsibility report, it says:
"From promoting conservation in coffee-growing countries to in-store
'green teams' and recycling programs, Starbucks has established high
standards for environmental responsibility.

"By taking steps to
reduce waste from our operations and recycle, we can preserve the
Earth's natural resources and enhance the quality of lives around the
globe.

"Starbucks actively seeks opportunities to minimise our environmental impact."

This
is not the first time the Seattle-based firm has come under fire over
its social and environmental credentials. In 2006, the Guardian
reported how the US coffee giant has used its muscle to block an
attempt by Ethiopia's farmers to copyright their most famous coffee
bean types, denying them potential earnings of up to £47m a year.

As
a result, Starbucks negotiated an agreement with the Ethiopian
government to give the country more ownership and a better price for
its coffee beans.

 

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