Starbucks Plans a 'Cultural Movement' Toward Reusable Cups by 2025

The future of the coffee chain could include reusable-container-only stores and cup washing stations for customers rinse their to-go tumblers.

Starbucks reusable cups in a basket at a Starbucks location
Photo: Shutterstock

In many ways, Starbucks is at a crossroads. Today, Kevin Johnson — who has spent 13 years with the company, including the last five as CEO — announced he'll be retiring. Beyond guiding the company through the pandemic, he's recently been dealing with perhaps a bigger challenge: a growing push by workers to unionize.

How the next Starbucks boss navigates these issues could determine how a new generation of customers view the coffee giant. Yet, in the meantime, the company is still looking towards the past. Taking over as Starbucks interim CEO is none other than its former CEO, Howard Schultz. And additionally, this week, Starbucks doubled down on a commitment it's been working on for years: reducing cup waste.

After helping to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge in 2018 (and trailing a bevy of beverage options in the ensuing years like reusable cups and compostable cups) Starbucks pledged yesterday that they would be "shifting away from single-use plastics and piloting reusable cup programs in six markets around the world."

The ultimate stated goal: Starbucks says they want to "create a cultural movement towards reusables" by 2025. They hope to get their "by giving customers easy access to a personal or Starbucks provided reusable to-go cup for every visit, making it convenient and delightful to reuse wherever customers are enjoying their Starbucks Experience."

Starbucks sees a few paths to get there. They are continuing to test their Borrow a Cup program in multiple cities and iterations, as well as slightly more aggressive "100% Reusable Stores." Programs such as these are already being trialed in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and Singapore, with more countries joining in the coming year.

Even then, the coffee brand believes they have other ways of persuading people. Examples include new cup promotions and partnerships, additional financial incentives or fees for either reusing cups or getting a disposable one, and cup washing stations that will allow customers to clean their cups in store.

That said, Starbucks has allowed customers to bring their own cups since 1985 — offering a 10 cent discount to those who do — and disposable cups are still a ubiquitous problem. Will these new ideas be enough to "create a cultural movement" by 2025? And even if it does, just what does a "cultural moment" amount to as far as reduced cup waste? Sounds like even more for the next Starbucks CEO to work on. Whoever they are, they'll be busy.

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