Corporate contamination

Corporations are funny. For example, Starbucks Coffee is so freaked out that it might be spreading swine flu, that it’s no longer allowing customers to reuse their plastic and paper cups for refills. True, Bites probably should have known better than to fall into the Starbucks habit last summer. But the people who work behind the counter, the folks Starbucks calls its “partners,” are always so nice. And refills are just 50 cents. So every afternoon Bites grabs the morning empty and heads up the street to say hi to the partners.

Well, about a week ago, the partners started throwing Bites’ cup away, and using a new cup for every refill. Wait, Bites protested. That’s not a refill at all, even if it does cost just 50 cents. That’s just a fill.

Partners at various locations around the city say it’s all about health department rules, and the H1N1 virus. And many seem to think it’s a pretty dumb and wasteful policy.

But a Starbucks public-relations rep in an undisclosed location, who insisted that Bites not quote her by name, said the no-recycling policy has always been the rule.

“We are just emphasizing to our partners that we do not use previously used disposable [paper and plastic] cups when refilling beverages,” the nameless, locationless spokeswoman wrote, adding, “This has nothing to do with H1N1. This is a policy/standard in all of our stores.”

Uh huh. Anyway, Starbucks’ policy/standard does allow you to bring in your own, H1N1-contaminated, nondisposable coffee cup from home for a refill. And considering the stuff that appears to be growing in that one cup rolling around on the Bitesmobile floorboards, swine flu may soon turn out to be the least of the partners’ problems.

Speaking of corporate weirdness, Sacramento Regional Transit is going commercial. Starting last week, RT stations all over town started sporting new Coke machines, and large plastic enclosures covered with Taco Bell ads.

The ads and the soda sales are part of new revenue-boosting effort for the cash-strapped transit agency. Later phases of Operation Sell Out will include special spots for licensed vendors. “It could be a taco stand, it could be a newspaper kiosk,” explained Mike Mattos, RT’s chief of facilities and business support services. Actually, that taco stand thing sounds pretty good, but what’s a newspaper kiosk?

The deal is expected to bring RT $113,000 to $257,000 a year, and possibly more than $300,000 in the later years of the 10-year contract with VendSight, and its partner, Coca-Cola.

The companies will also provide RT was some free marketing support, like “neck ringers” printed with RT advertising and placed on 2-liter Coke bottles sold at local stores. And, of course, the company will be throwing in 100 cases of assorted sugary bubbly product every year.

Bites asked Mattos if he was concerned about bringing more commercialism into the public space. He said no.

“We’re trying to supplement operational costs through nontaxpayer sources. I think it’s a plus,” Mattos explained.

When asked if RT would be selling out like this, if it had not been for the state raid on local transit funds and the plunge in local tax revenue, Mattos explained that “We had been slowly moving in this direction. When the revenue situation hit the fan, we definitely fast-tracked it.”