Starbucks Introduces Reusable Cup Program in Europe, Middle East, Africa

By 2025 you'll be guaranteed a reusable cup in 43 countries.

reusable Starbucks cup


Starbucks announced a reusable "Cup Share" program that will be in every one of its 3,840 stores across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East by 2025. The plan, which is part of the company's efforts to cut down on waste, will start immediately with a trial in the U.K., France, and Germany, before rolling out to other countries based on user feedback and local regulations.

Customers can put a deposit on one of the specially-made reusable cups that work for both hot and cold beverages. They come in three sizes and have been tested to last up to 30 times. Each cup has an identifying number that allows the company to track when a deposit has been paid. When the customer is finished with it, the cup is returned to a kiosk or cashier and the deposit is refunded. 

The cup itself is designed with waste reduction in mind. Its "patented foaming technology... results in a rigid and durable wall structure with up to 70% less plastic than current reusable cups." It provides insulation for hot and cold drinks without needing a sleeve, which further reduces waste.

Customers opting for the reusable cup will receive a further 25-30 pence/cent discount on their purchase, while those in Germany, U.K., Switzerland, and the Czech Republic will have to pay a 5-cent surcharge if they opt for a disposable paper cup. This is a smart disincentive, and one that should be increased considerably to act as an even greater deterrent. The less attractive disposability becomes, the more people will avoid it.

A press release says that the Cup Share program has been designed to "overcome barriers currently limiting reusable cup usage." According to a U.K.-based study conducted by environmental behavior expert Hubbub and commissioned by Starbucks in 2019, the biggest barriers to reusable cup use are forgetfulness and embarrassment. More than one-third (36%) of people own reusable cups that they don't use because they forget to bring them, and 27% say they'd feel embarrassed asking a store to put a drink in their own cup.

By providing an in-store option for reusability, both of these problems are resolved. The request to fill a cup becomes legitimate, even encouraged, and the customer doesn't have to bring their own cup from home. 

Starbucks in Portugal
Customers line up outside a Starbucks in Lisbon, Portugal.

Getty Images/Horacio Villalobos

Hubbub's CEO Trewin Restorick said, "It is massively encouraging to see the steps that Starbucks is taking which makes it as easy as possible for people to choose a reusable cup. The company has run reuse trials to understand what incentivizes customers to act and pioneered different pricing mechanisms. Building on this expertise, they have set out bold plans, using their scale and influence, to chart a new way forward that could change the entire industry."

It would be nice to see additional measures put in place to encourage people to use their own, however. Thirty uses isn't all that many for a reusable cup—only a month's worth of daily coffees. Most people own insulated cups that they've used far more times than that, which is why an incentive that greatly discounts bringing one's own should be a top priority for the company—something like 1 Euro or more. This could be offset by greatly increasing the surcharge for disposables to act as a true deterrent. If that is too complicated, a basic sign above the cash that says "We'd love to fill your reusable cup" might go a long way toward building customer participation.

This news follows an announcement that Starbucks will eliminate all disposable cups in South Korea by 2025. All of these new initiatives are helping to get the company toward its goal of cutting landfill waste in half by 2030. It has a long way to go. Bloomberg cites an audit that found Starbucks dumped 868 metric kilotons of coffee cups and other waste in 2018, more than twice the weight of the Empire State Building.

John Hocevar, campaign director for Greenpeace USA Oceans, said Starbucks is starting to show the kind of leadership we need to see from a company of its size, but that there's still a long way to go:

"Ultimately, it is not enough to offer a reusable program in only some countries; Starbucks must move away from disposable cups and toward reuse across its locations worldwide. While this is a great indication of where the company wants to go, there are still tens of thousands of Starbucks stores handing out billions of throwaway cups each year. Making reusability the only option will make Starbucks the kind of leader that other companies relying on throwaway plastic will need to find a way to follow."

In the meantime, for those of us in North America where reusable cup programs have not yet been announced, please persist in taking your reusable cup to the coffee shop. The more people who do it, the more it's normalized—and the more it signals to companies that this should be a top priority.