Starbucks expands reusable cup program in US to cut down on waste

US – American multinational chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves Starbucks is expanding its reusable cup program in the United States in an effort to reduce single-use cup waste.

The coffeehouse company said that the borrow-and-return program will run in five Seattle stores for two months as it gauges the viability of the program for a possible wider roll-out in future.

The trial program called Borrow A Cup program allows customers to order their beverage in a reusable cup, each replacing up to 30 disposable cups.

According to Starbucks, for an additional US$1 refundable deposit, customers can order their hot or cold beverage in a newly designed reusable cup in-person at a participating Starbucks Café or Drive-Thru or via Mobile Order and Pay.

Once done, they scan their cup at a participating store’s contactless return kiosk located in the lobby or drive-thru and drop the cup in the designated opening in the kiosk after which they will receive their US$1 deposit and 10 bonus stars.

To make collection of the reusable caps convenient, Starbucks has also partnered with Seattle-area service, Ridwell, to offer customers an at-home option to return their borrowed cup.

Starbucks is also working with GO Box, a reuse system operator and service provider, to collect borrowed cups from stores daily, professionally clean and sanitize them using commercial dishwashing equipment, and put them back into circulation within 48 hours.

 “Promoting reusability is an important part of Starbucks goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer.

“We understand the interdependency of human and planetary Health, and we believe it is our responsibility to reduce single use cup waste.  We will lead the transition to a circular economy.”

Reusable cups are not new to Starbucks. The company says it has offered the option for customers to enjoy their beverage in For Here Ware or to BYOC (bring your own cup) for a discount since the ‘80s.

And yet, the vast majority of the company’s beverages in the US are served in single-use cups, with only a small amount being recycled or composted due to waste infrastructure limitations.

The Borrow A Cup program is however a promising venture which would provide the necessary infrastructure to support the adoption of reusable cups.

“Starbucks Borrow A Cup program is an important step in advancing circular packaging solutions and reuse models that reduce our reliance on single-use materials and keep valuable resources in play for as long as possible,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners.

 “As a Founding Partner of our NextGen Consortium, which advances the design, commercialization and recovery of sustainable packaging alternatives, Starbucks is helping to pave the way for a waste-free future for the foodservice industry.” 

Starbucks continues to make progress globally, as well. For example, Starbucks Korea just announced a commitment to eliminate single-use cups from all Korean stores nationwide by 2025.

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