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Starbucks kicks off two-month reusable cup program at select locations in hometown Seattle

Starbucks is testing a "Borrow A Cup" program with reusable cups that will be sanitized upon return (picture credits: Starbucks)

MILAN — Starbucks is testing a reusable cup program at select locations in its hometown, Seattle. The “Borrow a Cup” two-month program is part of Starbucks’ aim to make its cups more sustainable, and is kicking off as a two-month trial in five stores. The program provides customers the option to receive their beverage in a reusable cup and return it at a participating store’s contactless kiosk or at-home through a Seattle-area service called Ridwell.

Starbucks discontinued its policy allowing customers to bring their own cups into coffee shops early on into the COVID-19 pandemic last year to curb the spread of the virus.

Customers are still not allowed to bring their own cups into stores. The chain instead partnered with GO Box to pick up used cups to clean and sanitize them in less than 48 hours.

Here is how it works

Customers can order their hot or cold beverage in a newly designed reusable cup in-person at a participating Starbucks Café or Drive-Thru or via Mobile Order and Pay and pay a $1 refundable deposit.

When the customer is done with their drink, they scan their cup at a participating store’s contactless return kiosk located in the lobby or drive-thru and drop the cup in the designated opening in the kiosk. Then, they scan their Starbucks App to receive a $1 credit to their Starbucks Rewards account, in addition to 10 Bonus Stars.

Each cup is professionally cleaned and sanitized

Starbucks continues to observe elevated cleaning and sanitizing protocols that meet or exceed public health guidelines and can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For the Borrow a Cup program, Starbucks has partnered with GO Box, a reuse system operator and service provider, to collect borrowed cups from stores daily, professionally clean and sanitize them using commercial dishwashing equipment, and put them back into circulation within 48 hours. “Reducing waste through reuse is an important way to support a transition to a more circular economy. Since our launch in 2010, GO Box has been working to develop systematic processes and infrastructure to scale reusable packaging for food and drink to go,” said Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, CEO, Go Box. “We’re thrilled to be partnered with Starbucks to ensure the Borrow A Cup program is a safe and sustainable choice for your favorite beverage.”

Partnership with Ridwell

Starbucks partnered with Ridwell, which offers a home pick-up service for reusable and hard to recycle items, to give customers a second option for returning their borrowed cup. Ridwell customers can place their reusable cup from the Starbucks Borrow A Cup program in a custom, reusable cup bag and place it in their Ridwell bin for easy pickups from their front door.

In addition to exploring scalable options to reduce single use cup waste, Starbucks has also acted through powerful partnerships with Closed Loop Partners and their NextGen Consortium and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, to increase the impact and to research and test solutions that will make cups, lids, and straws easier to recycle and compost. This complements Starbucks’ work with municipalities to improve recycling and composting infrastructure.

“Promoting reusability is an important part of Starbucks goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer. “We understand the interdependency of human and planetary Health, and we believe it is our responsibility to reduce single use cup waste. We will lead the transition to a circular economy.”

The challenge is how to make choosing reusables as convenient as you expect from Starbucks – no extra steps – especially with 80% of Starbucks beverages being enjoyed on the go.