Starbucks moving away from single-use coffee cups, introducing a more communal model

U.S.

Starbucks is testing programs that would require customers to use shared coffee cups. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

(NEXSTAR) – Starbucks has a vision for the future — and it includes communal coffee cups.

Starbucks has announced plans to reduce the use of single-use coffee cups by 2025 in favor of reusable models. In a press release issued Tuesday, the company detailed plans to achieve its latest “planet positive goal” by encouraging customers to bring their own personal cups to be refilled, or by offering communal cups that guests would be instructed to return upon their next visit.

Those communal cups would then be professionally cleaned at the store and provided to other Starbucks customers, who would in turn repeat the process.

“Innovation is how we will build our next chapter, advance our planet positive impact, and boldly reimagine our future together,” said Michael Kobori, the company’s chief sustainability officer, in a statement included with the press release.

The communal cups would be cleaned in-store before being provided to other customers. (Starbucks)

Starbucks has already tested several different pilot programs both in the U.S. and abroad, hoping to learn from customer preferences and behavior. In Japan, Singapore and London, for instance, some stores have adopted the communal-cup model (also known as “Borrow A Cup”) in addition to offering single-use cups. Meanwhile, 16 other shops in Korea offer no single-use cups at all, but rather reusable communal cups, personal cups, or “for-here” drinkware — the latter of which is provided to customers who choose to enjoy their beverages in-store. Another “experiential” location in Shanghai offers nothing but for-here drinkware.

It’s unclear exactly how Starbucks will be incentivizing customers to adopt the communal-cup model — or whether stores will begin charging a deposit for its communal cups — although the company has long offered a discount to customers who bring their own reusables. In some tests at U.S. locations, Starbucks confirmed that it had charged an additional fee for guests who requested single-use cups, which is already a common practice at Starbucks stores in the UK and Germany.

A representative for Starbucks said it was still testing various incentives and disincentives to get customers on-board with its reusable cup program.

Tuesday’s announcement marks a dramatic shift from the policies Starbucks was required to enact in the earlier part of the pandemic, when the company was temporarily unable to allow customers to use their own reusable cups between March 2020 and June 2021. Upon reinstating the practice, Starbucks adopted a new process whereby reusable cups were placed in ceramic mugs, which were then handled by its baristas.

In setting its reusable goals for 2025, Starbucks is also tackling a longstanding problem with its paper cups, which are only recyclable in certain U.S. municipalities. Over the last several years, Starbucks has worked toward a more sustainable cup — with projects aimed at redesigning the cup or figuring out a solution on the recycling industry’s end — but the process remains ongoing.

“Upping the recycled content of our hot cups is a long-time commitment and an area where we can continue to lead,” reads a portion of Tuesday’s press release.

A previous version of this story suggested single-use cups would be removed from Starbucks locations altogether; a representative for Starbucks has clarified that single-use disposable cups will still be available when reusable models are adopted.

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