Seattle Starbucks Stores go even greener this Earth Month with new Borrow A Cup program

Two-month borrow-and-return trial will run in five Seattle stores as part of Starbucks ongoing commitment to reducing single use cup waste and goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030.

Trial program allows customers to order their beverage in a reusable cup, each replacing up to 30 disposable cups.

Company partners with Seattle-area service, Ridwell, to offer customers an at-home option to return their borrowed cup.

The Starbucks cup is iconic. And while technically, Starbucks cups can be recycled under the right circumstances, they can only be used once. We know that needs to change.

“Promoting reusability is an important part of Starbucks goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer. “We understand the interdependency of human and planetary Health, and we believe it is our responsibility to reduce single use cup waste.  We will lead the transition to a circular economy.”

The challenge is how to make choosing reusables as convenient as you expect from Starbucks – no extra steps – especially with 80% of Starbucks beverages being enjoyed on the go.

Building on learnings from single-store tests this Fall and Winter, Starbucks is scaling its Borrow A Cup program to five stores in Seattle from March 30 to May 31, 2021. The program provides customers the option to receive their beverage in a reusable cup and return it at a participating store’s contactless kiosk or at-home through a Seattle-area service called Ridwell.

Order, sip, return, repeat!

Here’s how it works

contactless return kiosk

1. Order your beverage in a reusable cup and pay a $1 deposit.

Customers can order their hot or cold beverage in a newly designed reusable cup in-person at a participating Starbucks Café or Drive-Thru or via Mobile Order and Pay. Customers simply tell their barista they would like their drink in a reusable cup and then pay a $1 refundable deposit.

2. Return the cup and receive a $1 credit and 10 Bonus Stars.

When customers are done, they scan their cup at a participating store’s contactless return kiosk located in the lobby or drive-thru and drop the cup in the designated opening in the kiosk. Then, they scan their Starbucks App to receive a $1 credit to their Starbucks Rewards account, in addition to 10 Bonus Stars.

3. Each cup is professionally cleaned and sanitized.

Starbucks continues to observe elevated cleaning and sanitizing protocols that meet or exceed public health guidelines and can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For the Borrow a Cup program, Starbucks has partnered with GO Box, a reuse system operator and service provider, to collect borrowed cups from stores daily, professionally clean and sanitize them using commercial dishwashing equipment, and put them back into circulation within 48 hours. "Reducing waste through reuse is an important way to support a transition to a more circular economy. Since our launch in 2010, GO Box has been working to develop systematic processes and infrastructure to scale reusable packaging for food and drink to go,” said Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, CEO, Go Box. “We're thrilled to be partnered with Starbucks to ensure the Borrow A Cup program is a safe and sustainable choice for your favorite beverage."

Partnership with Ridwell

reusable cup placed in the Ridwell bin

Starbucks partnered with Ridwell, which offers a home pick-up service for reusable and hard to recycle items, to give customers a second option for returning their borrowed cup. Ridwell customers can place their reusable cup from the Starbucks Borrow A Cup program in a custom, reusable cup bag and place it in their Ridwell bin for easy pickups from their front door. 

“We are so excited to be partnering with a fellow Seattle company dedicated to making reuse possible at a much bigger scale,” said Caroline Stanford, Ridwell Marketing Vice President. “Our members have told us they overwhelmingly prefer to shop with businesses that are invested in sustainable practices - if we can crack the code with programs like Borrow a Cup there is such a huge opportunity to reduce the waste footprint in our communities.”

This work is not new to Starbucks. We have offered the option for customers to enjoy their beverage in For Here Ware or to BYOC (bring your own cup) for a discount since the ‘80s.* And yet, the vast majority of our beverages in the US are served in single use cups, with only a small amount being recycled or composted due to waste infrastructure limitations.

Illustration of borrow a cup at Starbucks recycled and placed in the Ridwell bin for pickup.
Artwork by Aliya Marder

In addition to exploring scalable options to reduce single use cup waste, we have also acted through powerful partnerships, including our work with Closed Loop Partners and their NextGen Consortium and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, to increase our impact and to research and test solutions that will make our cups, lids, and straws easier to recycle and compost. This complements our work with municipalities to improve recycling and composting infrastructure.

“Starbucks Borrow A Cup program is an important step in advancing circular packaging solutions and reuse models that reduce our reliance on single-use materials and keep valuable resources in play for as long as possible,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “As a Founding Partner of our NextGen Consortium, which advances the design, commercialization and recovery of sustainable packaging alternatives, Starbucks is helping to pave the way for a waste-free future for the foodservice industry.”  

Starbucks continues to make progress globally, as well. For example, Starbucks Korea just announced a commitment eliminate single-use cups from all Korean stores nationwide by 2025.

customer picking up the reusable cup

More on Starbucks global journey to find a more sustainable cup can we found here.

*Starbucks is not yet accepting personal cups in the U.S. and Canada. The decision to pause personal cup use was made early in the pandemic and continues today as the health and well-being of our partners and customers remains top of mind and our highest priority.

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