Is Borrowed the New Disposable? Everything You Need to Know About Starbucks’ New ‘Borrow A Cup’ Program

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"Starbucks is testing an innovative program that, if successful, could save massive amounts of single-use cups from ending up in the landfill. "

Starbucks is at it again. Earlier this year, the coffee giant dabbled in sustainability by testing a fully plant-based food location. Now it’s tackling disposables.

In a recent Tiktok video, Starbucks revealed it’s testing a reusable cup program. If all goes well, this could potentially mean bidding farewell to those iconic single-use cups in the near future. The concept—which Starbucks has coined the “Borrow A Cup” program—will be piloted at five Seattle stores from March 30 through May 31.

Why the potential switch? Well, in the past, Starbucks has come under fire for the amount of waste it produces. In response, it created a number of sustainability goals—one of which focuses on greener cups and packaging. This goal encompasses a whole slew of deliverables, including a target to double the use of reusable cups (cups people bring from their own homes) from 2016 to 2022.


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According to its 2019 Global Social Impact Report, only 2.8 percent of consumers actually bring their own containers, despite Starbucks offering a discount to those who do so. While the initiative has saved more than 105 million disposable cups, Starbucks wants to do better, which is why it’s developing new and innovative strategies to make reusables part of your everyday life.

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

@starbucks

Psst, we’re testing a new idea to reduce cup waste 👀#Starbucks #Sustainability

♬ original sound – Starbucks

How Does Starbucks’ Borrow A Cup Program Work?

The video states that “customers can borrow a reusable cup in five select stores, enjoy the drink anywhere, and bring it back to a participating store, where it’s professionally sanitized and ready to be used again.”

But what’s stopping someone from just keeping the cup? That was the question posed by many in the comments section of the video. Starbucks has a strategy: According to its website, customers will pay a $1 deposit fee for each cup. Upon returning the cup to a self-service kiosk, they’ll receive a $1 credit and 10 bonus stars added to their rewards account. Customers can also return the cups without leaving their homes by scheduling a pickup with Ridwell, a recycling pick-up service.

Sounds great, right? But the question everyone’s dying to know: How many cups do we need to return for a free coffee? At minimum, five. That’ll get you 50 stars, which earns you a hot brewed coffee, bakery item, or hot brewed tea. Free coffee for simply returning cups? We’re intrigued.

starbucks borrow a cup program
Photo: Starbucks

Is Starbucks’ Borrow A Cup Program Sanitary? 

This is another question on a lot of people’s minds—especially in a COVID-era world. The answer is yes.

The cups will not simply be washed like any other dish. Instead, they’ll be professionally cleaned by a startup called GO Box. GO Box is on a mission to create a more circular system by providing vendors and consumers with a solution for reusable containers and cups. The company will collect borrowed cups from the five participating Starbucks stores daily and professionally clean them using commercial dishwashing equipment.

“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,” Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, CEO of Go Box, said in a statement. “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.”

Starbucks is testing an innovative program that, if successful, could save massive amounts of single-use cups from ending up in the landfill.

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