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Starbucks’ customers in the US and Canada can use their own cups for all orders

In 2022, just 1.2 percent of Starbucks’ drinks were sold in reusable containers.

Starbucks mobile, personal cup

Customers ordering a drink with the Starbucks app will be asked to hit a button indicating they’re using a “personal cup.” Source: Starbucks

Starbucks will let U.S. and Canadian customers order hot, iced and blended beverages in their own mugs or travel tumblers, starting Jan. 3. That policy includes cafe counters, drive-through windows and via the mobile app, and it applies to all standard sizes.

The move is part of its drive toward a future in which 100 percent of Starbucks beverages are offered in reusable cups. 

The company said it is the first national coffeehouse in the U.S. to let customers use personal cups for mobile orders and the first in Canada to support all mobile order sizes. Two other widely recognized chains in the two countries, Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Horton’s, support the use of personal cups under more limited circumstances.

Starbucks’ goal is to reduce its landfill waste by 50 percent by 2030, and to make all its packaging reusable, compostable or recyclable by the end of the decade. The new program builds on numerous reusable-cup experiments over the past 18 months at its Seattle innovation lab and in 25 markets, including Arizona, California and Colorado; Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the U.K.

"The vision is that in the future every beverage should be served in a reusable cup," said Starbucks CSO Michael Kobori.

The effort launched this week doesn’t eliminate disposable cups, which account for 40 percent of Starbucks’ packaging output annually and comprise 20 percent of its waste footprint. As of its latest sustainability progress report, just 1.2 percent of drinks were sold in reusable containers. The company doesn’t disclose how many single-use containers it goes through annually, but one estimate suggests Americans toss out around 50 billion coffee cups annually. 

Mobile order process

Source: Starbucks

Clean cups only, please, without the lid

Starbucks customers have had the option of using a clean personal drink container or what the company calls "for here" ceramic or glass cups since 1985 if they’re staying on site to drink the beverage. Baristas have the right to refuse cups that are dirty as they cannot wash customer cups in Starbucks prep sinks for health and safety reasons. That process remains the same, although the company has tested personal cup washing stations at Arizona State University and in cafes in Oahu, Hawaii.

Here’s how the new process will work for other orders:

  • Mobile: Customers ordering a drink with the Starbucks app will be asked to hit a button indicating they’re using a "personal cup." When they arrive at the pickup point, they’ll pass over their clean cup without a lid by placing it in a container supplied by the barista. (This ensures that the barista doesn’t touch a person’s cup directly.) The drink will be prepared and measured as usual, poured into the cup, and given back to the customer, who will replace the lid.
  • Drive-through: The customer must declare that they have a personal cup, remove the lid, and then pass it to the barista in the same way described above. Once the beverage is added, it is returned to the customer in the same way. This contactless transfer method was refined at Colorado drive-throughs last spring, and it was adopted permanently at close to 200 stores in the state last fall.

Orders made via the mobile app, at drive-throughs or placed for delivery account for a large majority of the company’s U.S. revenue — 72 percent as of Q3 2022.

Drive-through Starbucks

The contactless transfer method was refined at Colorado drive-throughs last spring, and it was adopted permanently at close to 200 stores in the state last fall. Source: Starbucks

New prep utensils, processes required

The new policy applies to all company-operated Starbucks locations. It might not be offered in licensed locations, such as those in grocery stores. As of last quarter, Starbucks had 17,810 stores in North America, of which 10,628 are company-operated.

The switch required a redesign of the food-grade, shatter-free plastic "smallware" that Starbucks baristas use to prepare drinks. Lines were added so that it’s easier to measure sizes more accurately, Kobori said. That’s a reflection of the fact that customers won’t necessarily bring containers that conform to the coffee chain’s unique sizing conventions.

The rollout was shaped largely by the input of in-store employees. "I would say that the biggest lesson we learned is that it really requires a major cross-functional effort," Kobori said. That included understanding potential issues with health and safety regulations, learning how to communicate the new policy to customers through signage and other methods; and training employees on how to navigate the new processes without lengthening order delivery times. "In the end, it is so dependent on our store partners. It gives them pride and agency and the sense that they are doing something that matters," Kobori said.

Personal cup, smallware

The switch required a redesign of the food-grade, shatter-free plastic “smallware” that Starbucks baristas use to prepare drinks. Source: Starbucks

An incentive to BYOC

Certain Starbucks locations will offer incentives for customers to bring a personal cup in the form of a 10-cent discount. In the U.S., members of the Starbucks rewards program will receive extra points if they don’t use a single-use cup. (There’s a limit of three purchases per day.)

Starbucks isn’t sharing its expectations for adoption, although the company will be monitoring the rollout closely via its ordering systems, Kobori said. "Awareness is much higher in geographies where there is more regulation around disposables," he said.

The company hasn’t publicly offered a timeline for when the program might be available outside the U.S. and Canada.

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