Every year, Starbucks garners plenty of attention for its festive holiday cups. While they’re known for spreading joy and stoking conservative ire, most of us probably give little thought to what becomes of these paper cups once they’re drained of their precious caffeine. This week, though, a crafty stunt by a group of Seattle protestors is causing Starbucks’ overlooked cup crisis to rear its ugly head. 

Bellingham, Washington climate activist group Stand.earth descended on the coffee company’s corporate headquarters with a “cup monster” and massive wall, all constructed from 8,000 used Starbucks cups. The group claims this represents the more than 4 billion non-recyclable cups that its customers thoughtlessly throw away every year. 

“(Starbucks) uses 8,000 cups a minute, every minute of every day of every year,” said Jim Ace,  Corporate Campaigner at Stand.earth.”Eight-thousand cups are going in the landfill because in most places around the world, Starbucks cups are not recyclable.“ 

The group says that a plastic lining in the seemingly all-paper cups creates a clogging problem that prevents most recycling equipment from properly processing them. By camping out in front of Starbucks’ SoDo Seattle headquarters for five days and providing a striking visual example of just how many cups get thrown away, Stand.earth hopes to encourage the global coffee chain to move towards more sustainable practices. 

For their part, Starbucks sees the protests as misguided, claiming Stand.earth is ignorant of their existing recycling efforts. “The protest taking place in front of our Seattle headquarters this morning is misguided and intentionally ignores the fact that Starbucks hot cup is recyclable, as well as the realities and complexity of recycling in our country,” the company said in a statement

Between business practices and municipal recycling policies that limit paper recycling, it would seem that there are several culprits in the cup crisis. At the very least, Stand.earth has chosen a striking way to draw attention to the issue and given us all something to think about as we sip our next gingerbread lattes.