Sitting without fanfare on the table in front of packaging engineer Andy Corlett is the clear, recyclable lid that will soon replace more than a billion plastic straws each year.
“It sounds dramatic, but this lid is going to get used about a billion times a year. It’s going to take billions of single-use plastic straws off the market,” said Corlett, director of global packaging solutions and innovations, whose team at Starbucks helped design the lid. “It still hasn’t necessarily hit me.”
Corlett, who designed packaging for companies including L'Oréal and Proctor & Gamble before coming to Starbucks three years ago, said the solutions he’s worked on in the past more typically might reach 10 million customers, a number that seems large. But this is on another level. It’s surreal to work on a project that will reach billions and will “change a way of doing things that’s been around for 100 years.”
“We’re seeing a lot more public awareness around sustainability in packaging,” he said. “We have a major opportunity here. The impact and reach of this project make it really special. Plus, we think customers are going to love it.”
In July 2018 Starbucks announced it would phase out plastic straws from more than 30,000 stores worldwide by 2020. The new lightweight, strawless cold drink lid will begin rolling out to stores in Canada and the United States this summer, an important milestone for eliminating plastic straws.
The new lid was modelled strongly after the lid traditionally used on Starbucks hot drinks, Corlett said. But while the standard hot and new cold beverage lids are similar enough to be siblings, if not fraternal twins, there will not be one lid to rule them all. Corlett said maximum enjoyment of a wide variety of beverages calls for variations in design. The Nitro lid, for instance, has a wider mouth to allow for optimal sips of liquid and foam simultaneously. Blended drinks, like the Frappuccino, have recyclable, domed plastic lids and will still feature straws (except in cities where straws have been prohibited)), but by 2020 those straws will be made of a plastic alternative.
The new cold drink lid uses nine per cent less plastic than the former lid and straw combined and can still accommodate a straw, which will be available upon request, for those who need to use one, Corlett said. Starbucks is currently testing alternative materials to replace plastic straws as part of its goals to eliminate plastic straws by 2020 and to double the recyclability, compostability and reusability of its cups and packaging by 2022.
“We’re bringing new technologies to our company that we’ve never thought of before,” Corlett said. “It’s very exciting times as we look forward to our journey of being the most sustainable company we possibly can.”
At the recent Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders, Michelle Burns, senior vice president of global coffee & tea, shared news of the new strawless cold drink lid as well as other updates on progress the company has made toward sustainability.
Over the next year, in several worldwide markets, Starbucks will pilot new cups that will be both recyclable and compostable in those cities.
Starbucks initiated a collaboration called the NextGen Consortium last spring with partners such as McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, Yum! Brands, Wendy’s and the World Wildlife Fund to not only explore next-generation recycling and composting technologies, but to work with municipalities to increase acceptance of these green cups.
Customers in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and London will help test several cups from the 12 NextGen Cup Challenge winners announced earlier this month.
“Who knows what further innovation we will see – I’m excited to see what happens next,” Corlett said. “Starbucks, either through our own initiatives or through collaborations, is making a significant change in the industry and how it thinks. That’s very special to me.”
At the annual shareholders meeting, the audience will sip Pike Place® Roast from a prototype of one of these cups.
To put a lid on the company’s dedication to sustainability, Burns will also preview an upcoming feature in the Starbucks mobile app that will eventually let consumers trace the journey of the coffee inside their cups from bean to brewing. (In the case of the batch of Pike Place being served at the meeting, 80 per cent of the beans came from farmers in Colombia and 20 percent from farmers in Brazil.) This ability to digitally trace the journey of coffee is another crucial piece of the company’s effort to be transparent in its sustainability and ethical sourcing, Burns said.