Starbucks Set A Precedent For Standard Paper Cups In The '80s

Whether you're getting a tea, cappuccino, or a latte to-go, you'll find them more often than not poured into a paper coffee cup with a thin plastic lid to sip out of. We use them all the time! Though it may seem like we've had them forever, those disposable paper cups you sip your coffee from were not always around. 

Before the 1918 Spanish flu decimated the lives of millions around the globe, people reused everything! Mugs, crystal glasses, clothing, and spoons would be reused and mended instead of being thrown out. But according to Bon Appétit, after the epidemic in the early 20th century, society became much more conscious of germs and disposable cups became popularized. 

There were a variety of different disposable cups throughout the decades, but it wasn't until the 1980s that paper coffee cups became popularized. Paper cups were originally created and promoted as an alternative to Styrofoam cups (which were deemed environmentally unfriendly), and surprisingly Starbucks became one of their leading proponents.

From Styrofoam, to paper, to...

The Starbucks Archive tells us that while the coffee company was founded in the 70s, it didn't begin serving premade coffee to-go until the 1980s. By the company started serving espresso drinks in 1987, it had settled on disposable paper cups because they could fit a raised lid, which was needed to accommodate the milk foam for lattes and other drinks (per Bon Appétit). Starbucks paper cups established an industry standard and many other coffee houses followed suit, replacing their Styrofoam cups with paper. 

Without a doubt, the paper Starbucks cups were, and still are, an iconic symbol of the company itself with their unmistakable mermaid logo stamped in vivid green on the white background. Still, the company has worked to improve its cup design over the years, partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund to add hot cup sleeves (to eliminate the wasteful practice of double-cupping hot drinks) and using recycled fiber in their hot cups.

Even today, despite its paper cups being a key aspect of the Starbucks company, National Public Radio announced that the coffee brand is still looking to improve the product it settled on nearly 40 years ago. With the goal of reducing the impact they have on the environment, in 2020 Starbucks announced a new goal of reducing the company's waste by 50% over the following decade. By 2025 Starbucks is planning to encourage the use of reusable to-go cups in their stores and is already preparing to allow U.S. and Canadian customers to start using reusable cups by the end of 2023. So, while Starbucks launched the coffee paper cup into stardom, the company will now be attempting to phase it out with the hopes of a cleaner planet.