Starbucks Innovates, Tests and Learns from Store Partners to Achieve Waste Goals

At Starbucks, we’ve always been about so much more than coffee.  

Over the course of our 50 years, with the help of our partners, we have always looked for ways to help protect our planet. Starbucks is committed to being a resource positive company, testing and learning from pilot programs and quickly sharing solutions to reach more people and create more impact.   

We invest ahead of the growth curve and innovate by testing new technologies that help us learn how to create the best possible experiences for our partners and customers. This work is being done in our Tryer Center, at Hacienda Alsacia in Costa Rica, in the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet, and through collaborative partnerships like our support of the Dairy Net Zero Initiative, Closed Loop Partners and TONZ and the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance.   

“We set a bold aspiration to become a resource positive company – to store more carbon than we emit, to eliminate waste and to conserve and replenish more freshwater than we use. This aspiration included setting ambitious 2030 targets to cut our carbon, water, and waste footprints in half,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks chief sustainability officer. “Innovation is how we will build our next chapter, advance our planet positive impact, and boldly reimagine our future together.” 

In support of the company’s goal to reduce waste sent to landfill from stores and direct operations, Starbucks is shifting away from single-use plastics, promoting reusability and championing the use of recycled content, driven by a broader shift towards a circular economy.  

Inside the Tryer Lab at the Starbucks Headquarters - Beta Lab

Promoting Reusables 

Our Planet Positive commitment comes to life when we invite our customers to join our efforts and find ways to be more sustainable during their Starbucks experience, like choosing a reusable cup. The challenge is how to make choosing reusables as convenient as you expect from Starbucks.  

Our goal by 2025 is to create a cultural movement towards reusables by giving customers easy access to a personal or Starbucks provided reusable cup for every visit making it convenient to reuse wherever customers are enjoying their Starbucks Experience.   

And by the end of next year, customers will be able to use their own personal reusable cup for every Starbucks visit in the US and Canada – including in café, drive-thru and mobile order and pay. 

To help make reusables convenient for customers, we are testing multiple reusable programs and operating models: 

  • Borrow A Cup: Customers order their drink in a designated Starbucks reusable cup, designed to be returned to stores, professionally cleaned, and reused by other Starbucks customers. This was previously tested in Seattle last year and we currently have live pilots in Japan, Singapore and London. Each program is intentionally different (even the name!) to help us find the best possible operational model globally.  
A customer's hand outside a car window holding a reusable cup in front of Borrow a Cup machine
  • 100% Reusable Operating Models: In this program, single-use cups are eliminated entirely, in favor of reusables, personal cups or for-here-ware. We tested this at four stores in Jeju, South Korea and recently expanded this an additional 12 stores in Seoul. The test in Jeju diverted an estimated 200,000 disposable cups from landfills in the first three months. 
Three Starbucks partners standing inside a Starbucks store holding empty reusable glassware and mugs
  • Personal Cups & For-Here-Ware: Encouraging customers to bring their own cup and emphasizing Starbucks provided for-here-ware as the default sit-and-stay experience. We’re testing a 100% for-here-ware program at our experiential Greener Store in Shanghai

Store manager Kim Davis led one of the first stores to test Borrow a Cup in the U.S.  

“Customers were just so excited to try something new and my partners had a lot of pride in testing it and giving that feedback to make the program even better,” said Kim Davis, store manager. “I do think that everyone really does want to contribute to a better world, and if we can help them do that one cup at a time, that is our mission right there.” 

Store manager Kim Davis inside a Starbucks store standing in front of a table with a reusable cup in front of her

Customer Incentives 

In addition to unique operating models like “Borrow A Cup” and 100% Reusable Stores, Starbucks is exploring what incentivizes customer behavior change through a few ways: 

  • Unique promotions and partnerships: For the past four years, Starbucks has offered a reusable red cup giveaway to celebrate the holidays. We gave free coffee to customers on National Coffee Day and partnered with Ocean Conservancy to donate $1 to the organization if customers brought in their clean, reusable cup. Customers in EMEA can grab a Starbucks Circular Cup and enjoy 25p off every time they use it.  
  • Financial Incentives: Since the 1980s, Starbucks has offered a $.10 discount to customers who have brought in their reusable cup. We’re launching different financial tests across the U.S. this year ranging from a $.10 single use fee to a $.50 discount. In the UK and Germany, customers who order their drink in a single-use cup receive a paper cup charge.  
  • New Customer Experience Upgrades: To encourage customers to bring in their reusable cups, Starbucks will trial new cup washing stations for personal cups Arizona State University campus stores and in cafes O’ahu, Hawaii. Customers will be able to come into stores and have their cup cleaned before ordering their beverage.  
A machine holding a reusable cup ready to wash it

Sustainable Packaging Solutions 

While a shift to reusables cups is our primary strategy toward achieving our Planet Positive goals, finding better ways to manage waste with more sustainable packaging solutions is also a priority.  

Upping the recycled content of our hot cups is a long-time commitment and an area where we can continue to lead. We are working on doubling the hot cup recycled content, and reducing the material used to make the cup and liner. The virgin paper used in our hot cup will be sustainably sourced and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.  

This new cup should be rolling out in Fall 2022 and in all US markets by the end of 2024.  

In further single use packaging optimization, we continue to replace traditional plastic straws with new compostable options around the globe. By the end of this year, will have eliminated PFAS from all packaging in the US and will eliminate PFAS globally in 2023.  

Recycling Infrastructure

A person's hand holding a Starbucks cup putting it in the recycle bin

While our goals are focused on diversion from landfill, we also need a viable and more robust recycling industry.  

The company is also launching a new Starbucks Partner Waste and Recycling App, developed by partners as part of the Greener Stores Innovation Challenge, designed to help partners navigate complex and unique store recycling guidelines. The app puts everything partners need to know to reduce waste and recycle in one place; it features store specific information and notifications, a sorting guide and the option to create store specific signage for partners and customers.  

We will continue ongoing work with industry stakeholders like the NexGen Consortium to facilitate advancements in US recycling infrastructure.  

We’ve committed an additional $5M to continue our work with NextGen to innovate to a more sustainable hot cup but also to work with the recycling industry to advance the recovery of foodservice packaging.  

Starbucks has also signed on the WWF led Manifesto, coordinating a call to action from countries and businesses for the UN to establish a Global Plastics Treaty to prevent plastic waste and encourage a circular plastic economy  

With new cup recycling markets coming online regularly, this March we will launch a mobile app for partners to help them understand what is recyclable and compostable in their markets. 

Together, these experiments and innovations will help us reach our planet positive goals.