Starbucks unveils plans to phase out famous disposable cups

Starbucks’ ubiquitous green-and-white cups could be a thing of the past as the coffeehouse chain plans to push people to bring their own cups, company officials said on Tuesday.

The Seattle-based chain claims it is aiming to “create a cultural movement towards reusables” by 2025 – by nudging the public to get their drinks in reusable containers rather than single-use paper and plastic cups.

Starbucks customers will be able to use their own reusable cups at every Starbucks store in the US and Canada, regardless of the order — plain coffee or skinny latte with extra foam and a squirt of syrup.

Starbucks said it’s considering several programs while “shifting away from single-use plastics” in the coming years. Starbucks chief sustainability officer Michael Kobori said the transition is part of an effort to become a “resource-positive company.”

“This aspiration included setting ambitious 2030 targets to cut our carbon, water, and waste footprints in half,” Kobori said in a statement.

Store locations in Japan, Singapore and London are testing a “borrow-a-cup” service – in which customers order drinks in cups that are meant to be returned to Starbucks, professionally cleaned and reused by other customers. Each buyer provides a $1 deposit, which is returned when they give back the cup.

Some Starbucks stores will get their own cup washing stations.
Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

Starbucks is also conducting a pilot program in South Korea where participating stores shift to “100% reusable operating models,” where single-use cups are “eliminated entirely.”

Other initiatives include the introduction of “cup washing stations” for personal cups, which are being tested in cafes on Arizona State University’s campus and at some stores in Hawaii.

The company is also considering additional discounts – and fees – for US customers based on their participation. Starbucks has already offered a 10-cent discount for orders served in a personal cup since the 1980s.

Tests include a 50-cent discount for customers who use reusable cups and a 10-cent fee for those who get their drinks in a single-use container.

Starbucks reusable cup
Starbucks is nudging customers to switch to reusable cups.
Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

Starbucks has experimented with reusable cup options in the recent past. For the last few years, the coffeehouse chain has given away a reusable version of its red holiday cup in limited numbers.

The sustainability initiative is gaining steam as Starbucks contends with obstacles affecting its business: A growing — yet still small — number of Starbucks stores around the country have begun organizing in recent weeks since a location in Buffalo became the first in company history to unionize. The push has led to at-times heated disputes between corporate officials and labor leaders.

Starbucks is also weathering the impact of inflation – with higher operating costs and fierce competition for workers. The company plans to raise prices in 2022 to offset some of those expenses.

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