Starbucks To Install Syringe Disposal Boxes In Some Of Its Restrooms

By Keri Blakinger 01/15/19

"My coworkers and I had all experienced needles left behind in the bathroom, store, and even in our drive-thru," said one former Starbucks employee.

customer ordering at Starbucks

Starbucks is slated to start installing syringe disposal boxes after hundreds of workers banded together to ask the java giant to address the growing problem of dirty needles appearing in coffee shop bathrooms. 

This week, an online petition netted more than 3,800 signatures from current and former employees begging for better protections from the health hazards of used needles. 

“Employees risk getting poked, and DO get poked, even when following ‘protocol’ of using gloves and tongs to dispose of used needles left in bathrooms, tampon disposal boxes, and diaper changing stations,” the petition reads. “Making coffee should not come with this kind of easily detoured risk.”

In response, the coffee chain went public with plans to install sharps containers at high-risk locations.

“These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations," a Starbucks spokesperson told Business Insider. “Which is why we have protocols and resources in place to ensure our partners are out of harm’s way."

It’s not immediately clear when the boxes will be installed or how many locations will get them—but for some, the change can’t come quickly enough.

"My coworkers and I had all experienced needles left behind in the bathroom, store, and even in our drive-thru," one former employee told Business Insider. "My primary fear when I worked there would be taking out the bathroom garbages. I was terrified that if I went to take the bag out, I would get poked by a needle I didn't know was there."

Accidental pokes can cost hundreds of dollars, given the cost of post-exposure drugs, the petition points out. 

The concerns come after the coffee colossus last year announced a new policy of always leaving bathrooms open for the public following harsh criticism over the arrest of two black men who’d tried to use the restroom. Afterward, the pair sued and settled for an undisclosed sum, according to The Washington Post.

In May, Starbucks locations across the country closed for a day of anti-bias training.

Starbucks already trains its workers on safe disposal techniques, and employees aren’t required to do anything that makes them feel unsafe, the company told Business Insider

"I can't emphasize enough that if our partners are ever in a position where they don't feel comfortable completing a task, they are empowered to remove themselves from the situation and alert their manager," spokesman Reggie Borges told the online outlet. "As we always do, we are constantly evaluating our processes and listening to partner feedback of ways we can be better."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.