- Starbucks launched its largest reusable cup pilot project to date, in partnership with reusable cup company Turn Systems, to improve its sustainability by reducing single-use cup waste. The program began in 12 stores in Napa and Petaluma, California, last week and runs through Oct. 22.
- Customers can bring their own cup or borrow a reusable polypropylene cup, and in-store customers who want to sit in the store can request a ceramic or glass reusable cup. Turn’s collection bins for the plastic cups are inside the stores, and customers who return a borrowed cup can register to win prizes or rewards.
- The test period will help the partners determine how to seamlessly integrate a reusables program into regular operations, collect and wash the cups at scale and effectively incentivize customers to return the items, among other things, said Ryan Everton, Turn Systems CEO.
Starbucks released its fiscal 2022 sustainability report in April, in which it detailed progress toward reducing virgin plastic use, lightweighting its packaging and making all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
It also permanently retired a goal to achieve 100% compostable and recyclable hot cups by 2022, which remained unmet, instead launching “more sustainable” hot cup made with less paper and less plastic liner. Starbucks missed its 2022 targets to double reusable cup use from a 2016 baseline of around 1.4%, only achieving 1.2% partly because of pandemic disruptions.
Prior to the pandemic, customers in stores across the country participated in bring-your-own-cup programs, but many brands temporarily suspended the initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic over initial hygiene and safety concerns that were later disproved. Personal cups already are accepted in-store at all U.S. Starbucks locations, and they will be accepted at all drive-thrus starting next year. The company has run smaller reuse pilots in Colorado and Arizona.
Everton said the reusable polypropylene cups in the new pilot are made to accommodate both cold and hot drinks and each one averages 100-120 uses. The cups all have a unique identifier that provides Turn with data about how many times they’re washed and reused. Currently, Turn is doing daily cup pick-ups and cleanings at a washing facility in Northern California in addition to a mobile washing truck.
Turn aims to have collected cups back in use within three days. However, time can vary if customers choose to keep the cups for a while before returning them. Data on this topic and the cup return rate will be analyzed during and after the testing period, but it is not yet available because the program is only a week old, Everton said.
Other data they’ll examine includes whether Starbucks customers return cups to different stores than the point of purchase and how many items they return at one time. Access to consumer data like what makes customers return and how they consume products provides value to brands, Everton said. That’s part of the key concept of Turn’s reward system, which allows participants to choose prizes like a Starbucks gift card.
“That reward can be retained in store, which can actually drive up sales in the future,” he said. “Part of our offering is transitioning reuse to be just a commodity-based item ... and actually adding more value to our clients by increasing their sales through the engagement with their customers.”
Right now the program has single-use lids on the reusable cups, but eventually reusable lids have the potential to be incorporated, Everton said. A shorter-term goal is to transition from a pilot project to a fully-scaled, permanent reusable cup program.
“There's a lot of legislation coming into effect forcing brands towards reuse ... A lot of these major brands are trying to get ahead of it,” Everton said. “We need to make sure we nail out some of the small kinks so we can transition to reuse really quickly when legislation comes into effect.” So far, no such U.S. state or federal regulations exist, but laws requiring food service vendors to offer reusable containers are in place in other countries such as Germany and France.
Turn also partners with LiveNation to offer reusable systems at venues and festivals.