Starbucks’ Next Eco-Challenge (and Opportunity): Recyclable Paper Cups


Starbucks paper cup

Hot on the heels of Starbucks’ global decision to phase out plastic straws, the impact-conscious brand is adopting another sustainability move. On July 26, about 950 of its locations in the UK will begin charging 5p (about 7 cents U.S.) each time a customer requests a disposable paper cup, with the funds raised going to its not-for-profit partner in the project, Hubbub.

Starbucks is making the move following a London test (it dubbed #nudge) with Hubbub, which saw the percentage of customers bringing their own cups increase to 5.8% from a lowly 2.2% before. As an additional incentive, Starbucks customers in the UK now receive a 25p discount if they bring in their own reusable cup.

“We saw encouraging results from the first three months of this trial with Hubbub, and what stood out to us was the positive response we had from partners (employees) and customers, who continue to push us to innovate and find ways to reduce waste,” said Starbucks EMEA head Martin Brok.

“Extending this to all our stores across Britain is an exciting step and we’re hoping this charge will remind customers to rethink their use of single-use plastic as it has with plastic bags.”

While a 5p “latte levy” may not save the planet, consider that Starbucks is responsible for an estimated 4 billion disposable coffee cups going to landfill every year. The company is trying to develop a better cup, one that can be recycled more easily.

Earlier this week, Starbucks revealed its global plans to eliminate plastic straws, which number more than 1 billion a year at its stores, by 2020. The move follows similar initiatives by McDonald’s and smaller brands, such as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

Brands are rallying around the idea of cutting non-biodegradable plastic waste in large part because so much of it ends up floating in the oceans, much of it in giant gyres that can measure hundreds of miles across. Seattle, Starbucks’ headquarters city, became one of the biggest U.S. cities to ban plastic straws, last week.

Instead of plastic straws, Starbucks is introducing two types of straw alternatives: recyclable strawless lids and an alternative-material straw option for beverages such as Frappuccinos.

It’s not just in the U.K. that Starbucks is being lobbied on recyclable paper cups. In the home of coffee, Italy—where Starbucks is opening its first store this fall—the company is feeling the heat from eco-supporters who’d like it to use recyclable cups there, too.