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Starbucks Tries Out Its New Reusable Cup Program at Five Seattle Locations

The “Borrow a Cup” initiative is part of the company’s goal to reduce waste by 50 percent over the next decade

A woman in a surgical mask reaches out from the window of her car to place a Starbucks cup filled with milk at a black kiosk.
Customers can find reusable cup kiosks at Starbucks locations in West Seattle and SoDo.
Starbucks [Official Photo]

In an effort to cut down waste, Starbucks announced that it is testing out a new program called “Borrow a Cup” in Seattle, which lets customers return reusable cups to kiosks near the coffee chain’s locations or dispose of them at home through local recycling company Ridwell. Customers must request the reusable cup through the Starbucks app, paying a $1 refundable deposit; when they’re done, they then scan the cup at one of the five participating stores in the area and leave it at the kiosk (four are in West Seattle, one is in SoDo).

Those who complete the somewhat elaborate process get a $1 credit tacked onto their Starbucks Rewards account, in addition to 10 bonus stars. The program launched in March and will run until May 31 at the following locations: 6501 California Avenue SW, 4706 California Avenue SW, 4408 Fauntleroy Way SW, Westwood Village (9023 25th Avenue SW), and 4115 4th Avenue S.

A third-party company called GO Box cleans and sanitizes the cups from the Starbucks kiosks before putting them back in circulation within 48 hours. The alternative option is to dispose of the cups at home by placing them in a bin from Ridwell, a local service that takes care of hard-to-recycle items through at-home pickups. Starbucks says each borrowed cup will replace up to 30 disposable cups, supporting its commitment to reduce waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Finding sustainable solutions to its cup materials has been an ongoing issue for Starbucks. In 2008, the company set a goal that by 2015, it would serve 25 percent of its beverages in reusable cups and that all of its cups would either be reusable or recyclable — but missed the mark by a wide margin. According to a CNN report, only 1.4% of Starbucks’ beverages were sold in reusable cups as of spring 2017. The year prior, the company readjusted its expectations, pledging to double the recycled content of Starbucks cups by 2022.

In the past, Starbucks has offered small discounts to customers who bring in their own cups and sold reusable tumblers, but public health concerns during pandemic scuttled some of those initiatives, and it is not currently accepting personal cups in the US or Canada. With the new “Borrow a Cup” experiment, Starbucks employees do not need to handle any of the reusable cups that customers return to the kiosks.