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Starbucks to phase out its disposable cups entirely by 2025

For better or worse, Starbucks has transformed coffee culture forever. Its logo is instantly recognisable globally, but at the cost of becoming a ‘ubiquitous’ symbol of single-use waste. The enterprise is now aiming to phase out its disposable cups entirely by 2025.

If you’re feeling a twinge of guilt for that pumpkin spiced latte phase you go through every Autumn, don’t beat yourself up. We’re all victims of mainstream coffee culture.

Since sprouting up globally in the 1990s, the Starbucks consortium in particular has grown at a relentless pace. Frankly, if the mere mention of coffee doesn’t bring to mind that weird green mermaid logo, you’re either miles away from a major city, or own a coffee machine yourself.

The major drawback of commodification on this scale is that corners are almost always cut for the sake of convenience and profit margins, often at the expense of the environment. If you hadn’t already gathered, we’re of course referring to its ‘iconic’ single-use cardboard cup, of which 6bn are offloaded onto customers every year.

Despite how, technically, they are recyclable – which is commendable – Starbucks’ size and international reach means it cannot solely rely on the social responsibility of customers to act consciously. The fact that these cups are still found by the thousands in landfill and littering the streets is evidence of that.

Directly from the mouth of its own chief of sustainability, Michael Kobori, the brand’s single-use cup has been described as a ‘ubiquitous symbol of throwaway culture.’ Considering there’s almost as many disposable cups sold in 12 months as there are people on the planet, I’d say that’s a fair statement.

So, as brands transition to models more in tune with conscious consumerism, what has Starbucks got planned?

Phasing out disposable cups by 2025

There are both short and long term adjustments Starbucks intends to enforce, but ultimately, the most obvious commitment it has to make to have any worthwhile impact is to phase out the sale of disposable cups entirely.

Recognising this inevitability, Kobori has echoed the company’s desire to ‘eliminate the disposable cup’ completely by 2025.

While it is not yet in a position to halt their production, the plan is to make the option of paper and plastic cups feel less convenient while the wider transition is made. This includes possibly charging a small fee for their use and offering incentives (such as discounts) to deter customers.

The hope is that, by 2025, a drip effect from Starbucks will allow the single-use cup to be axed completely without stirring up much fuss. The barista puns are fully unintentional, I promise.

What changes are coming in now?

Central to this strategy is the return of its personal cup service, which was suspended in 2020 due to concerns around the spread of COVID-19.

Those who frequented its cafes before the pandemic hit, despite the incessant chill-hop jazz combo, were able to bring their own flasks and mugs for both takeaway and eat-in orders. This option is due to return before the end of the year, with customers afforded the option at drive through spots.

Starbucks is also due to scale up its ‘borrow a cup’ program to be in full effect internationally by 2025.

To participate in this, customers pay a deposit each time they buy a beverage in one of Starbucks’ reusable ‘to-go’ cups. When they return at a later date, handing in the cup will get them their deposit back with a percentage knocked off their next order.

Lastly, Starbucks has announced the launch of the Starbucks Partner Waste and Recycling App, which will clarify local waste disposal and recycling rules for its employees. That way, staff know exactly how to dispose of materials without contributing to the issue of wishcycling.

Here’s to hoping these systems are put in place sooner rather than later, because, as it stands, your organic, dairy free treat really isn’t all that sustainable.


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