Starbucks Rolls Out New ‘Industry-Leading’ Cups to Reduce Plastic Waste

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: Apr 27, 2024

The weather getting hotter means one thing: an uptick in sales of cold drinks in Starbucks. But Cold Brews and Frappuccinos require plastic cups, which adds to the amount of single-use plastic waste.

So the coffee giant has a solution. Starbucks plans to introduce new disposable cups to help the environment. Find out the details of Starbucks’ new less-plastic cups here.

20% Less Plastic

Starbucks’ new disposable cups will contain up to 20% less plastic. These cups will be rolled out in stores across the U.S. and Canada.

A close-up photo of a milky drink inside a Starbucks plastic cup with green straw on the sand

Source: Nadine Shaabana/Unsplash

While hot drinks are typically served on paper cups, cold drinks at coffee shops like Starbucks still use plastic cups. They keep the drinks cold for a longer period. Alternatively, you can order “for here,” which means you can swap the plastic cups with reusable glass or ceramic ones belonging to the store.

Leading the Industry

These new cups have been developed for the past four years, according to Starbucks’ VP of Product Innovation, Amelia Landers.

Four Starbucks drinks on a table surrounded by people

Source: Ejov Igor/Pexels

Thousands of iterations were tested to figure out how plastic could be removed while still keeping its sturdiness. Landers remarked, “We feel like it’s industry-leading. It’s the best expression of a cold plastic cup.”

The Popularity of Cold Drinks

75% of Starbucks’ beverage sales in the U.S. comes from Frappuccinos and other cold drinks. This figure is up from a decade ago, which was 37%.

Brown colored cold coffee drinks inside plastic cups

Source: AIRIZ/Unsplash

But the new Starbucks cups will keep plastic out of the landfills by more than 13.5 million pounds in weight.

Redesign Changes

Another change in the cup’s design will include a feature of raised dots near the bottom. This is so baristas can quickly feel with a simple thumb swipe which size cup they’re holding.

A coffee bar featuring different cups, implements, and bottles

Source: Ludovic Delot/Pexels

Those with impaired vision are expected to benefit from the redesign as well. It’s definitely useful to differentiate the cups’ different sizes. Starbucks’ 12-ounce cups (“tall” cups) are actually shorter and wider than the larger cups to match the one-size-fits-all lids.

Sustainability Push

This is all part of Starbucks’s efforts at driving sustainability with its products. In 2019, Starbucks already adopted the strawless lids.

A hand holding a disposable plastic Starbucks cup filled with ice coffee with the sea in the background

Source: Olivia Lim/Unsplash

Starbucks’ new “green cup” initiative started in 2023. The business said it would accept customers’ bring-your-own cups for drive-thru and mobile orders in the U.S. and Canada.


Green Cup Initiative

Last year, new reusable clubs that would replace single-use paper cups were tested in 12 Starbucks stores in Napa and Petaluma, California.

Source: Olivia Lim/Unsplash

Source: Mahavir Shah/Unsplash

Then, from August to October, customers were able to start bringing in their own personal cup both in the store or drive-thru. Or, they might be offered a “Borrow a Cup” or choose “For Here” in the form of reusable ceramic or glass.


Other Regions to Follow

Starbucks’ plan is now to roll out the reusable cup program at thousands of stores in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The ETA for this program is next year.

A Starbucks store inside a mall in Johannesburg, South Africa

Source: TapticInfo/Wikimedia Commons

This program will invite customers to pay a small deposit when buying a hot or cold drink in a specially designed cup. The cup can be reused up to 30 times. The deposit gets returned when they bring the cup back to a store. Testing of the program already went ahead in California, Arizona, and Colorado.


Asian Markets Thrive With Reusables

In Asia, Starbucks has had some success with reusables. 2022 saw an increase in the use of reusable cups in Starbucks South Korea, up 16% from 2021. South Korea is said to be Starbucks’ largest global market.

Promotional pictures of Starbucks Tumbler Day/Bring Your Own Tumbler programs

Source: Starbucks Singapore Instagram/Starbucks Indonesia X

Various Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia offer discounts for when customers bring their own tumbler. And Starbucks in Hong Kong has started a “Borrow a Cup” program.


Goals for the Longer Term

In the long run, Starbucks aims to have all its packaging to be reusable by 2030. The less-plastic plastic cups are only a small step forward.

A graphic image of Starbucks reusable cup styles

Source: Starbucks/X

Yes, the cups are recyclable. However, they are still intended for one-time use. Starbucks won’t be fully “green” until all their cups are reusable and recyclable.


Continuing the Fight for Sustainability

You can rest assured, though, that Starbucks will continue to fight for sustainability. The company plans to continue its exploration into ways of making single-use cups more sustainable.

Two white ceramic mugs on a wooden tray

Source: Ravi Sharma/Pexels

“I think we will never take our foot off the gas, evaluating new ways and new methods and new technologies to go ruther. We’re not done.”


Plastic Repackaging

The good news is that Starbucks is not the only one. Major F&B corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are also introducing environmentally-friendlier packaging.

A wooden spoon, fork and knife resting on a bamboo cutting board

Source: Good Soul Shop/Unsplash

McDonald’s new McFlurry cups no longer have plastic lids. Their salad boxes and cutlery are now made from renewable fiber. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, developed a bottle made from plant-based sources. Thanks to these efforts, consumers can enjoy their meals with a slightly lower carbon footprint.