Why Starbucks May Not Offer You A Disposable Cup On Your Next Coffee Run

With an increased focus on sustainability in recent years, many restaurants and fast food chains are doing away with disposable products. This is obvious in the push for paper straws, which many establishments have begun using. Starbucks virtually eliminated straw use, designing its newer cups with a lid that allows customers to sip straight from the top. Now, the coffee giant is testing another means of reducing plastic with its Borrow a Cup initiative.

Starbucks launched its Borrow a Cup test in California on August 14, stating in a press release that it would continue through October 22. Limited to select Napa and Petaluma stores, it will emphasize reusable cups. The test allows Starbucks customers to bring their own reusable cups, borrow a cup from the store and return it via dedicated recycling bins, or receive a reusable cup from the restaurant if they're dining in. The company will offer a 10-cent discount and 25 additional Bonus Stars to Rewards Members who bring their own. Meanwhile, TURN Systems will supply "high-tech" bins for the recyclable option.

This isn't the first time Starbucks has attempted a Borrow a Cup test. The company has been running such experiments through its Reusables Program since 2019. It's enacted similar setups in nine other states, including New York and Arizona, and in several countries in Europe and Asia.

Starbucks may bring this model to all stores

According to Amelia Landers, Starbucks' VP of Business Strategy, Partner, & Customer Solutions, the company is conducting its reusables tests with the "goal for all customer packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable in the future." That means the company will likely expand its Borrow a Cup initiative. The company explains that these tests serve as a means of learning "how to offer customers a way to shift away from single-use cups toward a reusable to-go-coffee experience." That explains why it's offering patrons multiple options rather than immediately shifting to recyclable-only cups.

Still, the response to Starbucks' program has so far been positive. A Colorado-based Borrow a Cup program was successful enough that Starbucks brought the bring-your-own cup concept to drive-thrus throughout the state. The coffee chain may make similar moves in California if its current test is successful. From there, the standardization of this initiative could move quickly.