The Reusable Coffee Cups Are Back

Did you know that you can use your own reusable coffee cup at Starbucks? Starbucks has offered a 10-cent discount on every order for a reusable cup since the 1980s. Despite this, the vast majority of customers enjoy their drinks from disposable cups.

The disposable Starbucks cups have turned into a symbol of our single-use plastic problem. Thanks to the company’s global presence, you can see their plastic cups all over the world. Starbucks goes through roughly 7 billion disposable cups every year and they make up 20% of the company’s global waste. And if you think that the paper cups are better than plastic ones, they are lined with plastic as well.

In March 2022, Starbucks announced that it shift away from single-use plastics. By the end of the year, Starbucks customers will be able to use their own reusable cups for every Starbucks order in the United States and Canada, including drive-thru and mobile orders which are currently excluded. The company is also exploring new incentives to encourage customers to bring their own cup. 

If Starbucks lets you use your own cup and gives you a small reward for doing it, why aren’t more people bringing their own cups? Part of the issue is convenience. Bringing your own cup requires advance planning and making sure you remember to wash and actually bring your cup. Sometimes getting a cup of coffee to go might be an impromptu decision. 

But what about people who get a cup of coffee to go every morning on their way to work? Why aren’t these people bringing their own cup if they know they are getting coffee to go for sure. Part of the issue is education and culture. Places like Strabucks don’t remind people that they could bring their own cup and baristas don’t ask “did you bring your own cup today?” People might also view the single-use coffee cup as a symbol of busy city life that’s definitely cooler than your dad’s travel mug. 

Maybe places like Starbucks could offer customers a bigger discount on using their own cup or maybe they could start charging a 5- or 10-cent fee for plastic cups. Small fees on plastic grocery bags have proven to be an effective way to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags. However, we might need a bigger cultural shift and people need to critically examine their coffee consumption habits to eliminate single-use plastic cups. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many coffee shops stopped accepting reusable coffee cups in order to protect the workers. Especially in the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot of unknowns about how the virus spreads and customers were not even able to bring their own reusable bags to many grocery stores. At the time the plastic industry was trying to take advantage of the pandemic and claimed that single-use plastics are the safest option for the public. 

Starbucks started to accept reusable cups again in June 2021 and created a new system using a ceramic mug to transport the reusable cup through the bar so that baristas don’t have to touch it directly. 

Some smaller coffee shops might not be embracing the reusable coffee cups quite yet, but according to health experts they are safe to use since reusable containers are low-risk for spreading COVID-19. As a matter of fact, many environmental groups including Greenpeace have urged businesses to stop the ban on reusable coffee cups and limit single-use items. 

So next time you go to a coffee shop, check if you could use your own reusable coffee cup. By doing that you can reduce plastic waste one coffee cup at a time.