Starbucks USA | Reusable Cup

War on waste with "Borrow a Cup"

The world's largest coffee chain has realized that reusable could make sense. A first test with reusable cups is starting in Seattle.
IMAGO / Future Image
The world's largest coffee chain has realized that reusable could make sense. A first test with reusable cups is starting in Seattle.

The US coffee chain Starbucks wants to enhance sustainably and act more ecofriendly. In a two-month pilot phase, the company is testing reusable cups with two return options in five stores at its home base in Seattle.

As the world's largest coffee chain with an 80 percent to-go rate, an industry mega-player has decided to take action against the growing mountain of disposable waste - and is testing a deposit and reward system with specially designed reusable cups for two months. Due to the higher hygiene requirements caused by the Corona pandemic, the company had to end the previously common practice of guests bringing their own cups.

New "Borrow a Cup" reusable system

Through the "Borrow a Cup" program, customers can take away their hot or cold beverage in a reusable cup by paying a $1 deposit. The cups can be returned in two ways: Either guests bring back the cup themselves. To do so, they scan their cup at the contactless return kiosk of a participating Starbucks café in the lobby or drive-thru and drop it into the kiosk's designated opening. They then scan their Starbucks app to receive the deposit credit to their Starbucks Rewards account. As a small reward for participating in the reuse system, 10 bonus stars are also credited.

A second option is available to customers of the disposal service provider Ridwell. They simply put the cups in a reusable Borrow-a-Cup bag into their Ridwell bin and have them collected from their own doorstep with other recyclable items handled by Ridwell.

Professional sanitation

For the reusable program, Starbucks partners with pool system operator Go Box to collect returned cups from stores daily, clean and sanitize them with professional dishwashers, and recirculate them within 48 hours. "Preventing waste through reuse is an important way to support the transition to a circular economy. Since our launch in 2010, Go Box has been working to develop systematic processes and infrastructure to scale reusable food and beverage takeaway packaging," said Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, CEO of Go Box.

"The challenge is to make reusable choices as convenient as you'd expect from Starbucks - without any extra steps - especially since 80 percent of Starbucks drinks are consumed on the go," the company explained of its ambition for the new initiative to combat single-use waste and is still collaborating with other partners: Together with Closed Loop Partners and their NextGen Consortium, as well as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy Global Commitment organization, the coffee brand is looking for ways to make cups, lids and straws more easily recyclable and compostable.

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