Starbucks Sees 150% Increase in Reusable Cup Use

Starbucks reusable mug

Charging extra for disposable cups while discounting reusables is working well in locations across London.

It has been six weeks since Starbucks introduced a 5p surcharge on disposable coffee cups in 35 locations across central and west London. The trial was designed to measure waste and figure out effective ways of reducing it, and so far it has been highly successful. In a preliminary report published last week, Starbucks says it has seen a 150 percent increase in reusable cup use, based on the number of people redeeming the 25p discount on reusable cups.

The relative numbers are still small, however. Prior to the trial beginning, only 2.2 percent of customers brought their own cups, and now that number is up to 5.9 percent. The report says that the biggest change has occurred in the mornings, with 8.4 percent of customers bringing their own cups. This is likely because it is easier to remember a cup in the morning, when getting coffee is one of the first things a person does upon leaving the house.

The success of this trial so far has led Starbucks to introduce another pilot project, testing alternatives to plastic straws in 54 locations in Manchester and London. (I wonder if they'll be colored green.) Two types will be tested, paper and biodegradable plastic.

The company has also committed £7 million to redesigning its disposable cups to be fully compostable and recyclable. This is a promise we've heard before numerous times from Starbucks, so it remains to be seen if it follows through.

Still, Starbucks appears to be on the right track by emphasizing the importance of waste reduction with its surcharge/discount program, rather than focusing on feel-good recycling, which isn't really a sustainable solution for the long term. It will be interesting to see if the numbers remain high through the remaining six weeks of the trial.