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Starbucks plans to phase out its iconic cup, calling it a 'symbol of throwaway culture'

starbucks cups, starbucks reusable cups
Photo by Sorin Sîrbu on Unsplash

Starbucks disposable cup.

As a millennial born in 1988, it’s hard for me to think about coffee without in turn thinking about Starbucks. Since expanding nationwide in the 1990s, Starbucks has completely changed coffee culture. Some might say for better, others for worse. But a lasting change to say the least.

Even the Starbucks cups are famous. Odds are you’ve seen one in its regular white and green form (if you’re not drinking from one at this very moment, that is) or in a festive shade of red for the holiday season. Either way, it’s instantly recognizable. Or as Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer Michael Kobori calls it, “ubiquitous.”

But in an interview with CNN Business, Kobori warns that these easily tossed disposable cups are also a “ubiquitous symbol of a throwaway society.”

With Starbucks serving around 6 billion disposable cups per year, he’s not wrong. Though the cups are recyclable, that doesn’t stop them from being thrown into landfills, if not littering the streets directly.

That’s why Kobori shares the company’s new solution: “eliminating the disposable cup” entirely by 2025.


The plan is to make the option of single-use paper or plastic cups much less attractive, similar to their swapping straws for lids with cold drinks. This includes possibly charging a small fee to use disposable cups, while experimenting with discounts and incentives to pull customers to the “green” side.

By the end of 2022, the company plans to allow customers to use their own reusable mugs, something that was temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. This time, however, being environmentally conscious might get you anywhere from 10 to 15 cents. Which any caffeine-aholic knows easily adds up day after day.
starbucksSnow White Coffee GIFGiphy

Starbucks is also considering adopting a borrow-a-mug program, where customers pay a small refundable deposit in exchange for a cup rental.

The company did a two-month beta version of the program in none other than Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle. When customers returned the cup, they not only got their $1 deposit back, they also received 10 rewards points. Though many customers have come to rely on Starbucks for its convenience, the test was positively received. Store Manager Kim Davis noted that both the baristas and customers were on board, saying that “the excitement and engagement was really high.”

There is still one major obstacle: the drive-thru window. Oh, and mobile orders. So make that two obstacles. These are simple conveniences that customers have come to expect from Starbucks. It’s a brilliant move for the business model, but makes the sustainability goal a bit more complicated. Especially considering that more than half of all sales are made by people cruising by in their cars or ordering on the app.

starbucks cupsAnne Hathaway Starbucks GIFGiphy

A few mock-up stores have been set up to test different options. One being obvious: customers simply handing over their reusable cups to the barista at the drive-thru window. Another is to have them drop off their cup at an earlier drive-thru point, so that the drink is ready once they swing around to pay. Plus premaking the drinks to then pour into the reusable cups once the driver pulls up. I can see the potential for mess with that last one, but the point is: Solutions are being tested.

As for the mobile purchases, that seems to be an especially tall order. Venti, even. But Starbucks is nothing if not innovative. On more than one occasion, the company's forward thinking has completely changed the coffee game. It made “single origin” hip, nondairy milk and plant-based food accessible, and folk jazz the official cafe sound. It certainly feels like if any single business entity can guide us as a society toward improved coffee habits, it’s the one repped by the green mermaid.

May her siren song lead us all to a better, more sustainable future.

Planet

Easy (and free!) ways to save the ocean

The ocean is the heart of our planet. It needs our help to be healthy.

Ocean Wise

Volunteers at a local shoreline cleanup

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The ocean covers over 71% of the Earth’s surface and serves as our planet’s heart. Ocean currents circulate vital heat, moisture, and nutrients around the globe to influence and regulate our climate, similar to the human circulatory system. Cool, right?

Our ocean systems provide us with everything from fresh oxygen to fresh food. We need it to survive and thrive—and when the ocean struggles to function healthfully, the whole world is affected.

Pollution, overfishing, and climate change are the three biggest challenges preventing the ocean from doing its job, and it needs our help now more than ever. Humans created the problem; now humans are responsible for solving it.

#BeOceanWise is a global rallying cry to do what you can for the ocean, because we need the ocean and the ocean needs us. If you’re wondering how—or if—you can make a difference, the answer is a resounding YES. There are a myriad of ways you can help, even if you don’t live near a body of water. For example, you can focus on reducing the amount of plastic you purchase for yourself or your family.

Another easy way to help clean up our oceans is to be aware of what’s known as the “dirty dozen.” Every year, scientists release an updated list of the most-found litter scattered along shorelines. The biggest culprit? Single-use beverage and food items such as foam cups, straws, bottle caps, and cigarette butts. If you can’t cut single-use plastic out of your life completely, we understand. Just make sure to correctly recycle plastic when you are finished using it. A staggering 3 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans annually. Imagine the difference we could make if everyone recycled!

The 2022 "Dirty Dozen" ListOcean Wise

If you live near a shoreline, help clean it up! Organize or join an effort to take action and make a positive impact in your community alongside your friends, family, or colleagues. You can also tag @oceanwise on social if you spot a beach that needs some love. The location will be added to Ocean Wise’s system so you can submit data on the litter found during future Shoreline Cleanups. This data helps Ocean Wise work with businesses and governments to stop plastic pollution at its source. In Canada, Ocean Wise data helped inform a federal ban on unnecessary single-use plastics. Small but important actions like these greatly help reduce the litter that ends up in our ocean.

Ocean Wise, a conservation organization on a mission to restore and protect our oceans, is focused on empowering and educating everyone from individuals to governments on how to protect our waters. They are making conservation happen through five big initiatives: monitoring and protecting whales, fighting climate change and restoring biodiversity, innovating for a plastic-free ocean, protecting and restoring fish stocks, and finally, educating and empowering youth. The non-profit believes that in order to rebuild a resilient and vibrant ocean within the next ten years, everyone needs to take action.

Become an Ocean Wise ally and share your knowledge with others. The more people who know how badly the ocean needs our help, the better! Now is a great time to commit to being a part of something bigger and get our oceans healthy again.

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