Bringing a Group to SB'24? Explore Our Special Rates for 3 or More!

Product, Service & Design Innovation
Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Lead Brands Launching First City-Wide Reuse System

The collaboration, led by the NextGen Consortium, makes reusable cups the default option in over 30 national and local restaurants across the City of Petaluma, California.

Starbucks, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Peet’s Coffee, Yum! Brands, and other global and local brands and restaurants are partnering in The Petaluma Reusable Cup Project — an unprecedented collaboration to drive reuse.

Starting August 5, more than 30 restaurants in the City of Petaluma, California will swap their single-use to-go cups for reusable cups for all customers at no cost; and widespread return points will also be available across the city. As the first initiative of its kind that makes reusable to-go cups the default option across multiple restaurants in a US city, the program marks a significant milestone for reuse — with the opportunity to drive more customers to reuse and displace waste from hundreds of thousands of single-use cups.

The Petaluma Reusable Cup Project is focused on supporting customers to create return habits — key to the success of reuse schemes. The city-wide initiative is a critical step forward to catalyze and scale reuse systems, building on half a decade of work by the NextGen Consortium — a collaboration managed by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, in partnership with many global foodservice brands.

The mix of large, national chains; local, independent restaurants; convenience stores, community hubs and public locations gives this initiative distinct potential in shaping consumer habits and cultural norms. More than 30 Petaluma restaurants will participate in the initiative — including Starbucks and licensed Starbucks cafés in Target and Safeway stores; Peet’s Coffee; KFC and Yum!’s Habit Burger Grill; Dunkin’, and many local cafés and restaurants. The initiative was made possible through extensive public-private collaboration, with support and engagement from the City of Petaluma, Zero Waste Sonoma, Recology, community groups and local businesses.

“It takes an entire community to build the future of reuse that we want to see,” says Michael Kobori, chief sustainability officer at Starbucks — which in January became the first US coffee retailer to accept reusable and personal cups nationwide. “Our environmental promise is core to our business and that’s why we’re working toward a future vision of every Starbucks beverage served in a reusable cup. Together with fellow foodservice brands, local stores and community stakeholders, we’re leading this initiative to help further unlock behavior change toward reusables — making it easy for our customers, and any customer, to choose to reuse and reduce waste.”

Across the US, 50 billion single-use cups are purchased and disposed of each year. Most of these cups are provided in a restaurant and disposed of at home, work or school — with an average lifespan of less than one hour before going to waste, according to the Center for the Circular Economy’s research. While reuse is growing quickly, use of personal cups and existing takeaway reusable-cup systems still face low adoption or low returns. For reuse to scale responsibly, it’s imperative to create an easy and enjoyable consumer experience that makes it easy for customers to remember to bring their own containers or to return one that was given to them.

“To create a world without packaging waste, we need to ensure that food packaging reuse systems are scaled in a way that creates a positive environmental impact––meeting the current needs of people while driving a cultural shift toward reuse,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “By testing reuse across an entire city in partnership with key stakeholders from the community and industry, we can scale reuse collaboratively through thoughtful experimentation — building a future where reuse is the norm.”

Petaluma, California — located in the northern San Francisco Bay Area — was selected for the initiative for many reasons. In this region, businesses and consumers are receptive to adopting reuse, given the policy environment promoting the phase-out of non-recyclable, single-use packaging. The city also participated in a returnable-cup pilot at participating Starbucks locations in 2023. The size and dense layout of downtown Petaluma — with its tight cluster of restaurants and local shops within walking distance, and proximity to suburban and rural areas — creates the right conditions for testing a reuse system for to-go cups. Collaboration with local stakeholders has helped adapt the initiative to local policy and infrastructure, identify optimal return points across the city and engage the broader community.

“The City of Petaluma is laying the groundwork to make cup reuse not only an option, but the default,” says Mayor Kevin McDonnell. “We have an amazing, engaged community; and we look forward to assisting the success of this program, alongside our local restaurants and participating global brands that service our community.”

"Imagine a neighborhood where all to-go cups are reusable, and returning these cups required no extra steps. By making reusable cups as convenient and accessible as single use, we can offer an alternative for residents when they forget to bring their own cups with them,” says Leslie Lukacs, Executive Director of Zero Waste Sonoma — the county in which Petaluma sits. “Universal accessibility creates the foundation for a cultural shift towards reuse.”

The Petaluma Reusable Cup Project will install more than 60 cup-return bins across Petaluma. After use and return, the reusable cups will be collected, washed and recirculated for future uses by participating businesses and customers. Muuse — maker of a smart reusable-cup system that won the NextGen Cup Challenge in 2019 and went on to participate in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator — was selected by the NextGen Consortium to manage all servicing and reverse logistics for the initiative.

“Transitioning to returnable packaging systems is a critical part of reducing single-use packaging waste, and we need to focus on supporting the operations behind it. These systems must be thoughtfully and responsibly implemented to ensure we are minimizing our impact of creating more waste in the process,” says Muuse COO & co-founder Brittany Gamez. “It is through initiatives like this that we can identify what is needed to operationalize shared systems at this level and inform how reuse is implemented at scale.”

The Petaluma initiative, which runs until November, will collect baseline data that measures customer participation and the environmental impact of making reusables the default choice for customers — testing whether the model is operationally viable for scale. Data from the initiative can be leveraged by businesses and regulators to support them as they design new reuse systems and draft well-informed packaging regulations.

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium, its brand partners and the Center for the Circular Economy ecosystem have been at the forefront of the reuse movement. In 2019 and 2020, the NextGen Consortium launched trials in the San Francisco Bay Area to understand how reusable cup programs might operate simultaneously across multiple restaurants, leading to a foundational reuse report. The Center for the Circular Economy’s work to advance reuse also extends beyond the cup. In 2023, its Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag released a playbook for enabling near-term reductions in single-use plastic bags that can be implemented by retailers of any size — in partnership with CVS Health, Target, Walmart and other leading retailers.

The NextGen Consortium says it will continue its work and collaboration with stakeholders from across the reuse value chain, from innovators and activists to global brands and policymakers, to effectively scale reuse systems that eliminate industry waste.

Advertisement