Starbucks to Phase Out Disposable Cups

The coffee chain aims to incentivize customers to bring their own mug, a practice scrapped during the pandemic.

March 16, 2022

Disposable Starbucks Cup

NEW YORK—Starbucks is testing ways to phase out its iconic disposable cups for reusable options, reports CNN.

“Our cup is ubiquitous, and we love that,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks chief sustainability officer, told CNN. “But it is also this ubiquitous symbol of a throwaway society.”

Starbucks plans to allow customers to use their own mugs or borrow a ceramic or reusable to-go mug from their local Starbucks by 2025. By next year, customers will be able to use their own personal mugs at every Starbucks in the United States and Canada, even if they order ahead or use the drive-thru.

Before the pandemic, Starbucks allowed customers to bring their own mugs to be filled with their drink orders, but fears of coronavirus transmission canceled the program. The company brought back the option and is now testing ways to the make the program more attractive, including 10 to 50 cents off an order and discounted prices for people who use a Starbucks-provided ceramic mug in stores.

Using a personal mug gets complicated for drive-thru and if customers order ahead through the Starbucks app, so Starbucks is testing ways to make it work.

One option is to allow customers to drop their personal cups earlier in the drive-thru process so that the drink is ready by the time they get to the final window. Another is for employees to make drinks in a reusable cup and pour the drink into the customer’s personal cup when they get to the window or get to the store. Employees would then wash out the reusable cup and use it again.

Starbucks is also thinking about a widespread borrow-a-cup program, where customer would pay a deposit for a reusable cup that they take with them and then drop it back off at the store.

“I think that will take the lead,” Amelia Landers, a Starbucks vice president of product experience, told CNN. “We are testing a number of different [borrow-a-cup] programs around the globe,” including “20 different iterations and in eight different markets.”

The company tested a program last year in Seattle where customers paid a $1 deposit and had to return the cup to a smart bin located in the store to get their dollar back. Customers also earned rewards for using the cup. Starbucks said the cups used in the program could replace 100 single-use disposable cups and are ultimately recyclable.

Starbucks is running similar pilot programs in Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Starbucks says that this type of program is the most promising because it is the easiest to integrate into customers' daily lives. They don't have to remember to bring their own reusable mug, or if they do bring one, they don’t have to deal with a dirty cup for the rest of the day.

More convenience retailers are turning to sustainable packaging to keep food and drinks fresh and warm. Learn more in the NACS Magazine article “Package Deal,” published in the January 2022 issue.

More than half of all convenience store customers (54%) say they’d like to see more recycling at their local c-store, according to NACS data. NACS offers a resource in partnership with CMI on the value of can and bottle recycling, which offers tips and suggestions for improving current practices, how to effectively communicate the goals of the program with staff and customers, as well as a checklist to help retailers reduce contamination in their recycling bins.