Forget the coffee, what will Starbucks do to Italy’s environment?

An association of Italian activists has something to say about Starbucks coming to Italy – but it has nothing to do with the taste of their coffee.

Forget the coffee, what will Starbucks do to Italy's environment?
Starbucks will open its first Italian branch in Milan this year. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP

When Starbucks announced it would finally open its first ever Italian branch in Milan this September, it pledged to make its debut in the home of espresso with “humility and respect”. 

Comuni Virtuosi, an association of environmentally responsible local authorities across Italy, hopes to hold the US mega-chain to its promise. It's not asking Starbucks to change its coffee – just what it comes in. 

The association is calling on Starbucks' American management not to use any disposable cups in its Milan roastery, and instead serve drinks exclusively in in-house crockery or reusable to-go mugs.

“A company made of 28,000 stores distributed in 77 countries, being attended daily by millions of people, has a huge potential to make a difference contributing to tackle the rising tide of coffee cup and other disposable tableware waste,” Comuni Virtuosi wrote in an appeal addressed directly to Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and backed by NGOs including Greenpeace Italy and Zero Waste Europe.

By serving coffee in real cups, Starbucks would simply be following the example of thousands of Italian cafés and bars that pour millions of espressi each day into washable cups and glasses for customers to drink as quickly or as slowly as they like.

“Our way of drinking coffee til now is much more sustainable than the takeaway coffee to go, that's sure,” Comuni Virtuosi spokesperson Silvia Ricci told The Local.

READ ALSO: Why coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While traditional crockery remains more common in Italy than single-use cups, she says, the rise of fast-food chains – such as McDonald's, which already has over 300 McCafés across Italy – means that disposable tableware is becoming more and more common. 

“It can be a chance that, through Starbucks, we change some of the more sustainable ways that we are consuming our expresso,” Ricci commented. “The point is that if we are being influenced much more by foreign chains coming to Italy, of course we can slowly change our habits.”

Like many countries, Italy has gradually swapped its traditional patterns of consumption for less sustainable ones. From buying pre-wrapped produce at supermarkets instead of loose at greengrocers to ordering meals delivered at home instead of in a restaurant or shopping online for products shipped in layers of plastic and cardboard, many of our modern conveniences –  just like ordering coffee to go – require more packaging and generate more waste.

And while efforts to recycle or switch to biodegradable materials are welcome, better for the environment by far is using less to begin with.

READ ALSO: War on plastic leaves manufacturers clutching at straws

Photo: sablin/DepositPhotos

When Starbucks comes to Italy, it has the opportunity to set a good example, says Comuni Virtuosi. Instead of being offered cups made of paper or bioplastic that still go in the bin after one use, or inviting customers to recycle plastic ones – a costly process that generates yet more emissions – the association would like to see Starbucks present its clientele with a simple choice: buy a reusable mug, or drink your coffee in the café. 

“If you look at what Starbucks tried [in other countries], like latte levies [a small extra fee for disposable cups] or a discount for using the [reusable] to-go cup – this is not working, it will take ages and ages,” Ricci says. 

“I'm aware that it's difficult to start a revolution in lifestyle habits, especially in countries where they are well-established, but in Italy we have the chance to start on the right foot.”

But what about the other great Starbucks debate: will Italians drink American coffee?

“I’m not sure whether we would like so much the American coffee,” Ricci laughs, “because we are used to drink not so much liquid, you know?”

Perhaps there are more ways than one that Starbucks should cut back if it wants to make it in Milan.

READ ALSO: 'It's like opening Taco Bell in Mexico': Your reactions to Starbucks coming to Italy

Photo: Leon Neal/AFP


Central and southern Italy brace for storms and heavy snow

Storms and snowfall are forecast across much of central and southern Italy over the next few days, according to weather reports.

Snow is forecast in the hills of much of central and southern Italy.
Snow is forecast in the hills of much of central and southern Italy. Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Italy’s Civil Protection Department on Monday issued ‘orange’ alerts for bad weather along Campania’s Tyrrhenian coastline and the western part of Calabria, while Sicily, Basilicata, Lazio, Molise, Umbria, Abruzzo, central-western Sardinia, and the remaining areas of Campania and Calabria are under a lower-level ‘yellow’ weather warning.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts is warning Italy’s central-southern regions to prepare for a blast of polar air from the Arctic Circle that will bring heavy snowfall, rain and storms, reports national weather forecaster Il Meteo.

The village of Grotte di Castro in the province of Viterbo, two hours’ drive north of Rome, mountainous parts of Sardinia, and much of the province of Campobasso in the central-eastern region of Molise were already blanketed in snow on Monday morning.

The department is responsible for predicting, preventing and managing emergency events across the country, and uses a green, yellow, orange and red graded colour coding system for weather safety reports.

An orange alert signifies a heavy rainfall, landslide and flood risk, while a yellow alert warns of localised heavy and potentially dangerous rainfall.

The current meteorological conditions mean that snow is expected to reach unusually low altitudes of around 450-500 metres, with flakes already falling thickly on parts of the southern-central Apennines mountain range at 500-700 metres altitude.

The hills of Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Lazio, Sardinia, Campania, Calabria and Basilicata are likely to see heavy snow around the 500m mark, while areas at an altitude of 1000m or higher will see between 50-60 cm of fresh snow.

Affected parts of the country could see 50-60cm of snowfall.

Affected parts of the country could see 50-60cm of snowfall. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO /AFP

In areas where the snow is unlikely to reach, heavy rains and thunderstorms are anticipated, with rain forecast throughout Sardinia, Campania, Calabria and Lazio, reports Il Meteo.

Strong winds are forecast over the whole country, with the island regions of Sicily and Sardinia facing windspeeds of over 100km/hour and the risk of storm surges, according to the national newspaper La Repubblica.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

The north of the country, meanwhile, will see sun but low temperatures of below 0°C at night in many areas, including across much of the Po Valley.

While conditions are expected to stabilise on Tuesday, cold currents from Northern Europe are forecast to trigger another wave of bad weather on Wednesday and Thursday, with Sardinia and Italy’s western coastline again at risk of storms and heavy rainfall that will move up towards Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto in the north.