How CRO Can Help Starbucks with Recycling

Have you ever finished your drink at Starbucks, walked over to the trash and recycling area and wondered what to do with your cup, napkin, or lid?

It happens to me every time and I usually end up putting them all in the one place Starbucks doesn’t want me to put it – the trash can.

Outside of Starbucks, I work on websites in an area called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). In the digital world, a “conversion” is when a visitor to your website takes the action you want them to take – such as filling out a lead form, downloading an app, or buying something.

The best websites make it very clear as to what to do, and eliminate any distractions that may divert the user. One of the best proponents of CRO is Amazon that keeps making it easier and easier to find, select order and pay for our purchases. That’s part of the reason we all keep going back to Amazon – it’s just so easy.

So I decided to take my CRO skills and examine what is my problem with Starbucks Recycling.

I’ve been a patron for many years but I have to confess I still don’t know what is recyclable and what isn’t.

On the surface it seems pretty clear.

A paper cup is recyclable, right?

But what if you haven’t finished the coffee? Can you put the cup with the coffee in the recycle bin?

A plastic lid, no problem there.

A paper napkin, hmmm. If it’s smeared with food, is it still recyclable?

And every time I go to Starbucks I go through this process.

As I mentioned, good CRO involves making it very clear to the user exactly what it is you want them to do, and at the same time eliminate any distractions. So let’s take a look inside a Starbucks store and see how clear Starbucks has made it.

Starbucks small

In the picture, you can see that the Recycle and Compost bins are right beside the Cream and Sugar stand which, just to complicate things, has a trash hole in the middle of it.
And that’s my first problem.

Because now I have to figure out what’s the difference between the three and what goes where.

Naturally I gravitate towards the Recycle and Compost slots. They are clearly marked which is nice. With Blue for Recycling (shouldn’t it be green?)  Yellow for Compost.

Going back to CRO on websites, you want the call to action to be very clear, such as you see with buttons like “Buy Now” or “Learn More”. Those are easily understood directions.

In Starbucks case though, the call to action is “Recycle”, which begs the question of “what can I recycle”.

And that’s where eye-flow becomes important.

Websites with good CRO create a path for the eye to follow to the intended call to action button.

At Starbucks, the eyes have a couple of options:

  1. Downwards to the “Recycle” hole. Hmm, that doesn’t answer the question in my mind of what to put in there, or
  2. To the right where bright Yellow text is trying to catch my eye. But wait. That says “Compost.” I still don’t know what to recycle

So I have to look further. And at this point I’m starting to feel stupid, especially if someone is behind me.

Finally my eyes look below the Recycle hole and I see what Starbucks wants me to recycle.

  • Cups and lids
  • Aluminum and glass
  • Plastic and paper

That’s better, but it’s still not enough. What if the paper is soiled?

Now there’s a line of people behind me!

But I’m not giving up, because I really want to recycle.

So I look over to the Compost area and see that soiled paper goes there. Finally!

There’s just one problem. It takes too long.

I usually don’t go through all of that.

Instead I just throw it all in one of the holes, and it’s usually the trash because I don’t want to screw up the recycling by putting the wrong stuff in there.

I thought this could just me, but I’ve talked to several friends about this and many had the same reaction. There has to be a better solution, right?

What Starbucks could learn from SeaTac airport

I was flying to San Diego recently out of SeaTac airport. There’s a fantastic eating area in front of the “C” gates so before the flight, I ordered a Starbucks.

By coincidence, I saw an airport worker emptying out the trash and recycling in the eating area so I went over to see how SeaTac tackled the recycling and boy do they do CRO well.

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Look at the pictures.

Massive headlines – “trash” and “recycling”. Even better, direclty below these words are pictures of what goes where.

And look at how the picture has a downward arrow below pointing to where to put the stuff.

A perfect eyeflow.

I think the guy thought I was crazy talking a picture of the signs so I explained to him why I was doing it.

We had a good chat about recycling but it was his final comment that me made me laugh.

“Those Starbucks cups? They go in the trash, we don’t recycle them.”

Frank Coyle About the author
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