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Behavior Change
Starbucks Expands ‘100% Reusables’ Tests in Bid to Sink Disposable Cup Waste

Since 2021, Starbucks has been testing the 100% reusables model across more than 25 markets. With most of its beverages enjoyed on the go, the company continues to test and learn how to best encourage customers to embrace reusables.

This week, Starbucks launched its latest reusable-cup test — this time in 12 stores in Napa and Petaluma, California. From August 14 through October 22, customers at participating stores will be able to bring their own personal cup in café or drive-thru, be offered a Starbucks “Borrow a Cup” or choose “For-Here Ware” — a reusable ceramic or glass cup for customers who opt to sit and stay in café.

As a founding partner of the NextGen Cup Consortium, Starbucks has been working since 2018 to advance sustainable packaging innovation and recycling infrastructure to help end foodservice packaging waste — with an initial focus on redesigning the single-use hot and cold fiber cup. The NextGen Cup Challenge sourced 480 solutions globally to redesign the cup, selecting 12 winning solutions in 2019 across three areas: innovative cup & cup liners, new materials, and reusable service models — for the latter, shifting from disposables to reusables is projected to save foodservice companies an estimated $5 billion a year in procurement costs and avert 7.5 million tons of materials from landfills and waterways annually.

Since 2021, Starbucks has been testing the 100% reusables model across more than 25 markets — including three cities in the US (including the Starbucks café located in the company's Seattle headquarters); as well as in Japan, Singapore, London and South Korea.

Bringing customers reusable convenience on the go

A customer in Colorado hands their personal cup off to their barista in drive-thru by placing it in a contactless vessel | Image credit: Connor Surdi

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With the majority of Starbucks beverages purchased on the go, the company continues to test and learn how to best provide customers the option to shift toward reusables. Choosing reusables is a new habit for many customers; and Starbucks’ behavioral-science research shows ease and convenience are foundational for ease of adoption.

In 2022, Starbucks began phasing out its ubiquitous, green-and-white disposable coffee cup and introducing various incentives for customers to either bring their own cups or choose a reusable one, and disincentives for using disposable options — including a disposable-cup fee and discounted prices for customers who used a ceramic Starbucks mug in stores. The company also began allowing customers to bring their own cups again; starting in 2024, customers in all Starbucks Stores across the US and Canada will be able to bring their personal cup wherever they order. After a successful personal-cup test run from April to June, customers at 192 stores across Colorado can now bring their personal cup through the drive-thru.

Personal cup washers were developed in partnership with store partners in the Starbucks Tryer Innovation Lab and created to ensure convenience for customers bringing their own cups. In participating stores across the Arizona State University campus, for example, customers can wash their personal cup or a returned Borrow a Cup right at the counter in the time it takes to complete their order.

TURN's smart-reusables system

Starbucks and TURN return bins can now be found at participating stores in Napa and Petaluma, with instructions for customers to return their Borrow a Cup | Image credit: Connor Surdi

For the newest tests in California, Starbucks teamed up with smart reusable-cup service TURN Systems — which is already helping organizations including Live Nation and UEFA drastically reduce single-use plastic waste at live events — using TURN’s high-tech collection bins to understand cup-return behavior. Customers who bring in their own clean personal cup will receive the standard $0.10 off, with an additional 25 Bonus Stars for Starbucks Rewards members.* When customers returns a borrowed cup, they also have the option to register online with TURN for a chance to win a prize (no purchase necessary).

“Our latest round of reusables tests around the world contribute to our goal for all customer packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable in the future,” said Amelia Landers, Starbucks’ VP of Business Strategy, Partner & Customer Solutions. “We know our partners and customers care about the planet; and we’re proud to offer them ways to join us in in making sustainable choices in their everyday lives.

The reusables tests are helping Starbucks drive progress toward its commitment to reduce waste by 50 percent by 2030; the company recently updated its target to include a commitment for all customer packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

“These types of tests are extremely important so that the company can understand all the different ways we can make an impact and move towards goals that we have set for the future,” said Starbucks district manager Tonya Palacios, who leads the stores conducting ongoing tests in Arizona. “I’m optimistic that we will execute the test at a high level and gather lots of feedback that will influence the next step in reusable cups and our sustainability goals.”

*Valid at participating stores on in-store beverage purchases only (max 3x per day).