Starbucks Is Giving Reusable Cups a Try

The "Borrow a Cup" sustainability initiative will run through May 31 in Seattle.

April 06, 2021

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks is taking a bold step in an effort to reduce paper cup waste. The coffee giant announced on April 6 that it will launch a limited store trial of its new “Borrow a Cup” program. As the initiative’s name implies, customers will have the option to receive their beverage in a reusable cup and return it at a participating store’s contactless kiosk, or at-home through a Seattle-area service called Ridwell.

According to a press release shared with Food Network, the program will run in five Seattle stores from March 30 to May 31, 2021, and is expected to have a meaningful impact on the environment. In fact, Starbucks estimates that each borrowed cup will replace up to 30 disposable cups, which supports the company’s ongoing commitment to reduce paper cup waste. The “Borrow a Cup” program will also help Starbucks achieve its loftier goal of reducing waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Here’s how the program works: For a $1 refundable deposit, customers can order their hot or cold beverage in a newly designed reusable cup in-person at a participating Starbucks location or drive-thru or via mobile order and pay.

When customers finish their beverage, 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. Then, they scan their Starbucks App to receive a $1 credit to their Starbucks Rewards account, in addition to 10 Bonus Stars.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

For customers who are consuming their drinks on-the-go, cups can always be returned to in-store or drive-thru kiosks at a later time. Alternatively, those who can’t make it back to the store can opt to use Ridwell. Ridwell offers a home pick-up service for reusable and hard-to-recycle items and Starbucks partnered with the brand for its “Borrow a Cup” program to give customers a second option for returning their drinking vessel. Ridwell users simply place their reusable Starbucks cup in a custom bag and put it in their Ridwell bin for easy pickups from their front door.

And while it might seem a bit odd to launch a reusable cup program in the midst of a pandemic, Starbucks claims that all of the cups are thoroughly cleaned after each use. To achieve this, the coffee company partnered with Go Box to collect borrowed cups from stores daily, professionally clean and sanitize them, and put them back in circulation within 48 hours.

What’s more? Starbucks also continues to observe elevated cleaning and sanitizing protocols that meet or exceed public health guidelines and can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The “Borrow a Cup” program is just the latest in an array of big changes Starbucks has made in recent months. In March, the brand formally added oat milk to its menus after teasing the dairy-free option several months prior, and last month Starbucks announced that it had begun offering new Braille menus to visually impaired customers in an effort to be more inclusive and accessible.

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