Our cups are everywhere, and we love it,” said Michael Cobury, Starbucks’ chief sustainability officer. “But it is also this omnipresent symbol of a pariah society.”
This is because the cups are disposable. When thrown away, the cups end up in landfills or as litter on streets and waterways. Some may be recycled, but recycling is a less than ideal option – recyclable items still end up in landfills.
best solution? “Dispose of the disposable cup,” Kobori said. This option has been called the “Holy Grail”.
By 2025, the company wants each customer to be able to easily use their own mug or borrow a ceramic mug or reusable mug from their local Starbucks. This may mean introducing more borrowing programs that require a deposit.
Starbucks also plans, by the end of next year, to allow customers to use their personal cups at every Starbucks in the US and Canada, even if they pre-order or use drive-through delivery.
Targets don’t mean Starbucks will phase out paper and plastic cups. But they want to make this option less attractive. It won’t be easy, because most Starbucks customers are used to this simple, one-time-use option. But the company has a plan.
Borrow-A-Cup Software Test
To phase out disposables, Starbucks is considering an extensive cup borrowing program, where customers pay a deposit for a sturdy cup they take with them and retreat after use.
Amelia Landers, Vice President of Product Experience and her team responsible for sustainable packaging at Starbucks, anticipates that this model will resonate even more. with customers compared to other sustainability efforts.
“I think this will take the lead,” she said. “We are testing a different number [borrow-a-cup] Programs around the world”, including” 20 different iterations and in eight different markets. ”
“We developed a new cup that has an extremely low environmental impact, was lightweight polypropylene, and ultimately recyclable, and could replace 100 single-use cups,” Landers explained.
For this test, customers paid a $1 deposit, and had to return the mug to a smart container found in the store to get the dollar back. Customers also got rewards for using the cup.
Kim Davis, who runs a store where the software was tested, said customers were curious about the trash, and once the baristas explained it to them, many of them were familiar with the concept.
“The excitement and engagement was really high between my clients and my clients [employees]For the barista, the process was straightforward enough – they just used the reusable cup instead of the regular cup to prepare the drinks. An outside company collected the soiled cups for cleaning, so the barista didn’t have to worry about this part of the process.
The model is the most promising because it is the easiest to integrate into customers’ daily lives.
You don’t have to remember to bring your own reusable mug, or if you do, stick to a dirty mug for the rest of the day. And you don’t need to sit down and sip your coffee at Starbucks, which is something most people don’t have time for on a weekday morning.
But this model is still being tested, so the company wants to encourage the use of reusable cups in other ways.
Return the personal cup
“We are testing a personal trophy incentive to get up from where it is today — from 10 cents to 50 cents,” Landers said. “We will also test the disposable cup fee.” She added that the chain is also testing discounted prices for people who use a Starbucks ceramic mug in stores.
This is simple enough. But it gets even more complicated when customers bring their own cups to the car or pre-order them through the Starbucks app.
Years ago, perhaps pre-ordering or using a car-delivery service was a rare enough occasion. But since the pandemic, more customers have been coming in with cars or ordering in the future.
During a call with an analyst in February, Starbucks’ chief financial officer, Rachel Ruggeri, said Starbucks windows and mobile phone orders together account for about 70% of sales in the company’s U.S. stores.
So to achieve its goal of no cups, Starbucks needs to figure out how to get the reusables drive-thru, and make them available to pre-order customers.
To this end, Starbucks has been testing different options at its innovation center.
“We have fake stores,” Landers said. “We have different versions of the drive-through layout.”
Customers can simply give their cups to the experts at the drive-through window. But Starbucks is exploring ways to make the process smoother.
One option, Landers said, is to allow customers to drop their cups at an early point in the drive-thru so that the drink is ready in a personal cup as soon as it swings out the window. Another is for the baristas to pre-prepare the drinks when customers place their orders, and pour them into personalized cups at the window or when they arrive at the store to pick up their orders. Starbucks is also testing in-store cup washing stations.
She said the team is trying “different things, over and over again” to see what might work. “We are now in the middle of all this work.”
But Starbucks also has to be careful not to throw too many extra burdens on employees, who already have to prepare complex, customized orders at high speeds.
This is especially important now. Workers across the country are considering unionization, against the wishes of the company’s leadership.
If the company’s initiative leads to the end of paper and plastic cups at Starbucks, it would be a major achievement.
“We know that even the most ardent sustainability pioneers don’t really change their behavior that easily,” Landers said. “Even though they really want to.”
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