Starbucks’ New Reusable Cup Program Is Actually Years Behind Schedule

Starbucks’ New Reusable Cup Program Is Actually Years Behind Schedule
Coffee cups make up the majority of the contents of a street rubbish bin in central London. (Photo: Pictures Ltd./Corbis, Getty Images)

Starbucks’ famous green-and-white disposable cups could soon be a nostalgia item, as the coffee chain says it will transition to reusable cups in locations all over the U.S. and Canada by the end of next year. Customers will be able to bring their own cup, purchase one from Starbucks, or borrow and return a cup that’ll be washed between customers.

Some people may scoff at borrowing and returning reusable cups shared by other customers — but, essentially, that’ll make Starbucks like most every other dine-in restaurant ever, where one cup will be used by hundreds or thousands of people until the end of its life cycle.

The company is several years behind a previous deadline of having a quarter of customers using reusable cups. Back in 2008, Starbucks set a goal for at least 25% of customers to be drinking from reusable cups by 2015 but didn’t reach that target, USA Today reported. It later announced it would phase out plastic straws and opted for customers to use sippy-cup-style plastic lids.

Those chunky lids actually used more plastic than the original lids that were made for straws. At the time, Starbucks explained that these new lids were made from polypropylene, which is recyclable. But less than 10% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled, so Starbucks likely would have been better off just sticking with straws in the first place.

The new phasing out of single-use cups will allow coffee lovers to purchase, borrow, or bring their own reusable cups in Starbucks all over the U.S. and Canada by the end of next year. This includes people who walk into one of the locations, who order online, and who purchase at drive-thru windows.

Starbucks announced a trial for the “borrow a cup” program in a handful of its Seattle locations last April for Earth Month. The program is also being tested in Japan, London, and Singapore, where customers can order drinks in a reusable cup that are then returned back to Starbucks to be professionally cleaned and reused.

Ending the use of disposable plastic and paper cups would eliminate about 20% of Starbucks’ global waste alone, the company’s chief sustainability officer, Michael Kobori, told CNBC. The shift from disposable to reusable cups is part of the company’s efforts to reduce company waste by 50% by 2030.