A Big Change Could Be Coming To The Way You Get Starbucks To-Go

Environmentally conscious consumers and companies are always looking for the most convenient and effective ways to reduce waste. Single-use items are a problem that people are trying to solve with reusable containers and shopping bags (if you can remember to bring them into the store). Starbucks has been making moves toward its goal of cutting its carbon footprint in half by 2030 and is now testing a program to eliminate the waste caused by its iconic single-use cups.

Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer Michael Kobori told CNN that the company's signature cups have become a "ubiquitous symbol of a throwaway society," and eliminating them would be the ultimate environmental contribution. Query Sprout notes that the plastic lining inside Starbucks' cups requires processing at specially equipped facilities that are not found in every city, which makes recycling quite the feat.

To reduce waste and eventually phase out disposable cups, Starbucks is allowing customers to bring their own mugs again and testing out a "borrow-a-cup" program. Customers would pay a $1 deposit for an "ultimately recyclable" cup that would replace 100 single-use cups in its life span. When patrons finish their beverage, they can drop the cup off in a bin where it will be sanitized and reused. The program sounds easy enough to do in-store, and customers have reacted to test runs favorably. But that's in-store, and Starbucks hit a snag when it came to implementing the program for orders placed through the app and at the drive-thru.

How will borrow-a-cup work for Starbucks to-go orders?

Ordering ahead with an app and using the drive-thru were convenient options utilized in pre-COVID times that have become commonplace thanks to the pandemic. According to CNN, Starbucks mobile orders and drive-thru business now account for around 70% of sales in the U.S. As the company tests out its "borrow-a-cup" program, it has faced some logistical challenges on how to get reusable cups into customer's hands when they aren't in the store.

Starbucks is testing several options at the drive-thru ranging from dropping off cups at an early point in the line to simply handing borrowed cups to the barista at the window. The coffee giant is also exploring an option where baristas make orders in a tumbler and then pour it into customers' reusable cups at the drive-thru window or in-store when customers arrive to pick up mobile orders.

Teams are working out the kinks in the reusable cup initiative, being careful not to overwork baristas or complicate the ease of to-go orders. Starbucks is still in the early testing phase of its borrow-a-cup program with no word on when it might roll out. In the meantime, customers are encouraged to bring their own mugs to stores while the company moves toward a greener goal.