Starbucks announced this week that it is currently trialing a reusable cup program at five Seattle, Washington stores for a period of two months. Dubbed the “Borrow a Cup” program, the trial is a continuation of an earlier single-store pilot that took place this past fall and winter in Seattle.
To participate, customers can order a beverage in a reusable cup for both in-person and mobile orders at participating stores. There is a $1 deposit. Once a customer is done with their drink, they can return the cup to participating stores, all of which will have return kiosks where customers can drop the empty cup. Upon returning the cup, customers also scan their Starbucks app to receive 10 bonus points on their Rewards account. (They get their deposit back, too.)
To clean the cups, Starbucks has partnered with a company called GO Box, which collects cups daily for cleaning and sanitizing, then returns them to circulation within 48 hours.
Starbucks has also partnered with Ridwell, which offers a home pickup service for hard-to-recycle items, in case a customer can’t actually get to a store to return their cup. Users will get a Ridwell bin in which they can place their reusable cups for pickup at the front door. Users must purchase a Ridwell membership to join the pilot. Pricing varies from $10 to $14 depending on the type of subscription.
Starbucks noted today that a major hurdle on the path towards more widespread use of reusables is convenience. “The challenge is how to make choosing reusables as convenient as you expect from Starbucks – no extra steps – especially with 80% of Starbucks beverages being enjoyed on the go,” the company said in a statement today.
It’s all too possible that the extra steps of having to return a cup to the store or set up service with Ridwell may prove too involved for some consumers. Given that, we can assume the “Borrow a Cup” program is just one small step on Starbucks’ journey towards a more earth-friendly coffee business, particularly where cups are concerned.
Worldwide, we throw out about 264 billion paper cups per year. Because of their plastic lining, these cups are difficult to recycle and therefore wind up in the landfill more often than not. In the U.S., reusable programs aren’t yet widespread, though that is slowly changing. Fellow QSRs Burger King and McDonald’s have both partnered with LOOP, the circular packaging service from TerraCycle, to trial reusable containers, including cups.
Both Starbucks and McDonald’s worked with Closed Loop Partners’ NextGen Consortium, which aims to reduce packaging waste, prior to the pandemic. Starbucks also had a “bring your own” reusables program in which customers could bring their own cups to Starbucks cafes and receive a small discount in return. That program was suspended because of COVID-19, and has not yet been reinstated at any Starbucks cafe.