If you get a cup of coffee at some Starbucks stores in Seattle, you now have the option of ordering it in a reusable takeout cup. The cup looks similar to the company’s plastic cups for cold drinks, but it’s designed to be sturdy enough for repeated reuse: When a customer returns a cup, it’s cleaned, sterilized, and ready for the next customer within 48 hours.
Of course, reusable cups—typically in the form of ceramic mugs—aren’t innovative for a coffee shop. (Starbucks also offers “for here” mugs, though baristas rarely seem to suggest them, and customers rarely request them; reusable cups were also temporarily banned because of the pandemic.) But in a world where most customers expect to walk out the door with their coffee and even people who own reusable travel mugs can forget to carry them, the system is another option. And it’s something that the company plans to roll out more widely. In South Korea, all 1,500 Starbucks stores will phase out single-use cups over the next four years.
In the Seattle pilot, customers who choose the reusable cup pay a $1 deposit. They have the option of returning the cup to a self-service kiosk that scans a code and gives them the deposit back, along with rewards points. A startup called Go Box picks up the cups for cleaning. If someone takes the cup home, they can schedule a pickup from Ridwell, a company that collects hard-to-recycle items from a bin next to someone’s front door.