Starbucks will now let customers use personal cups for nearly all orders

ByJordan Valinsky, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, January 4, 2024
Starbucks will now let customers use personal cups for nearly all orders
Starbucks will now let customers use personal cups for nearly all orders

NEW YORK -- Starbucks is expanding the ways its staff can fill customers' personal cups as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce the massive amount of waste the coffee chain produces from its iconic cups constantly thrown in the trash.

Beginning Wednesday, Starbucks is adding the reusable cup option to drive-thru and Starbucks app orders, marking a "milestone" move the company said was previously only available for orders made in-person at its cafes since 1985.

For drive-thru orders, customers tell the barista during the ordering process that they've brought their own clean mug that staff will collect at the pickup window "using a contactless vessel to ensure hygiene and safety."

For orders made in the Starbucks app, a new "personal cup" option is now added to the "customization" button during the ordering process. The customer places an order, then brings it to the store where they give the mug to a barista in the pickup area where the drink is made and given back in a "contactless vessel," which is a larger mug.

Two caveats: Starbucks notes that the cups must be cleaned before bringing them and that baristas won't rinse them out. The chain also won't accept cups larger than 40 ounces.

It's a significant expansion since drive-thru and app orders together account for about 70% of sales at US stores operated by the company, with both options having grown in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The chain's traditional hot cups are made of both plastic and paper, so they're difficult to recycle, prompting Starbucks to rethink a variety ways to reduce its waste output with a 50% reduction goal by 2030.

Each time they use a personal cup customers will also receive a 10 cent discount and 25 stars if they're members of the chain's rewards program. The expansion is now active at company-owned and licensed US and Canada locations, but isn't available for drinks ordered through third-party apps like DoorDash or Uber Eats.

Starbucks explained in a press release that the changes are "part of a larger cultural movement the company is leading to shift toward reusables and away from single-use plastics, making it convenient for customers to use their own personal cup for every visit."

Sustainability struggles

Some sustainable ideas Starbucks tried included experimenting with a borrow-a-cup program, in which customers pay a deposit for a durable cup that they take with them and drop back off after use.

In a test location in Seattle in 2021, customers paid a $1 deposit, and had to return the recyclable cup to a smart bin located in the store to get their dollar back. The company has tested similar pilot programs in Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Expanding the reusable cup program has long been a goal for Starbucks, despite the difficulties it might cause such as changing the taste of a complicated drink with several ingredients.

To solve that, Starbucks said that drinkers must let baristas know the size they would like and the drink will be made in a custom container that has "standardized lines (employees) need for measurements" before it's poured into a personal cup.

Starbucks also has to be careful not to put too much additional burden on employees, who already have to prepare complicated, customized orders at high speeds. The chain is also battling unionization efforts at some locations.

The company is trying to cut back on waste.

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