Return of the mugs: Starbucks lets customers bring their own cups after COVID pause as part of sustainability push

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Starbucks will again allow customers to bring their own clean, reusable cups to their stores for beverages beginning June 22. The worldwide coffee juggernaut temporarily banned the practice following the COVID-19 outbreak. The company will also again start offering drinks in their own dishware for people dining in.

Approximately 80% of Starbucks beverages are taken to go. The Seattle-based coffee chain has committed to cutting its waste in half by 2030.

The cup problem is a big one for Starbucks. CNN previously reported that the company has spent 30 years trying to come up with a greener alternative to its logo-emblazoned paper cup, which is essentially the brand’s billboard. It reported that Starbucks used 3.85 billion paper cups for hot beverages in 2017 alone.

In the early months of the pandemic — the first U.S. case was detected and announced in Washington state in January 2020 — health experts were unsure how the disease was spread. Fearing that the virus was transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces, including coffee cups and other dishes and utensils, led many businesses to shift exclusively to disposable food containers.

It is now known that SARS-CoV-2 is primarily spread through tiny aerosols particles and respiratory droplets, making masks an essential tool for preventing cases. Surface transmission is low risk.

Starbucks officials say they have held “extensive trials” around the world to test a new operating method to allow for the safe use of reusable cups.

The company will discount 10 cents per beverage for customers using reusable cups. Reusable cups will not be allowed in drive-thru windows.

This spring the company launched a two-month pilot project in Seattle that allowed customers to “Borrow A Cup” by taking a reusable cup that required a $1 refundable deposit. The cups could be returned to participating locations or recycled through the local waste-reduction company Ridwell. Returned cups would be sterilized and reused. The program ended at the end of May.

“It went really well and we saw strong engagement from customers,” said a Starbucks spokesperson by email. The company is determining what it learned from the pilot in order “to adapt the program and continue to evolve it for the future.”

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