Amid public pressure to curb trash from disposable cups, Starbucks is rolling out a possible solution Thursday: a $1 reusable tumbler.The Seattle-based coffee giant will start selling the plastic cups, bearing its logo and resembling the paper version, at all its company-owned stores in the USA and Canada in a bid to get customers to kick their throwaway habit.
“We see real excitement about these cups. People think they’re cool,” Starbucks’ Jim Hanna says, referring to recent test marketing in Pacific Northwest stores. He says 26 per cent more cups were reused in those stores in November, compared with the same month a year earlier. The data are based on the dime discount Starbucks has been giving for each cup of coffee served in multiuse tumblers since 1985.
The new $1 cup comes as food and beverage retailers face pressure to reduce the amount of disposable cups and containers that ends up in landfills or litters streets and waterways. Thousands of people have signed petitions on Change.org, a website promoting social change, urging companies to promote reusable options and abandon polystyrene foam packaging, which is rarely recycled.
McDonald’s began testing paper cups at some of its stores last year, and Dunkin’ doughnuts says it will do the same this year, but neither requires its stores to offer discounts for reusable tumblers. Jamba Juice, which plans to phase out foam cups this year, says it offers a dime discount for customers bringing in clean multiuse ones, but very few do so.
Hanna says Starbucks, in addition to working with paper mills to get more of its disposable paper cups recycled, has long sold reusable tumblers but expects the low price of its new one will prompt change.
“It’s not a burden for people to buy two or three,” he says, noting Starbucks will clean them for customers with a boiling-water rinse before each refill. The cups have interior lines to denote a “tall” or “grande” size.
Others aren’t as optimistic. “A bigger factor is human behaviour. I have friends who are environmentalists, and they have trouble remembering their mug,” says Conrad MacKerron of As You Sow, a non-profit group advocating corporate social responsibility. “We’re so used to this disposable culture.”
MacKerron says that although Starbucks has been a leader in cup reform, he’s disappointed that it has sharply reduced its goal of having 25 per cent of its cups be multiuse by 2015 to 5 per cent. He says Starbucks has a “high-end,” eco-minded clientele but has had limited success: 1.9 per cent of its cups were multiuse in 2011, up from 1.5 per cent in 2009.
Other companies have cited concerns that reusing cups could cause cross-contamination of germs, according to Miriam Gordon of the California chapter of Clean Water Action, an environmental group. “There’s this fear of liability,” she says, arguing that Starbucks’ cup cleaning solves the issue.
Gordon questions whether the $1 cup will be enough to alter behaviour, citing studies that consumers are more apt to change if charged a fee for something such as plastic bags than given a discount for a better alternative. Still, she welcomes the effort as a “step in the right direction.”