Starbucks has worked hard to keep its social and ecological conscience clear since its early days as a Seattle-based start-up company. Free trade coffee, organic ingredients and recyclable paper cups are part of the chain’s standards for corporate neighborliness.
Despite the company’s efforts to cut down on waste, its paper cups still weren’t an ideal solution; recycling paper has its own environmental costs. Even with the incentive of earning a dime for refilling paper cups instead of tossing them, customers often disposed of them as litter.
To offer coffee aficionados a more eco-friendly choice, Starbucks now offers sturdier reusable plastic cups that can be refilled indefinitely. The cups cost a dollar and resemble the traditional paper cups that will still be available for those who prefer them. When customers bring their reusable cups into the shop, the cups are thoroughly cleaned with boiling water and returned to their owners. Fancier tumblers and travel mugs are also available, but these premium products can cost $20 or more, making the dollar price a bargain.
Starbucks hopes the new cups will be enough of a bargain to entice customers to use them. In 2008, the chain had high hopes of serving 25 percent of its drinks in reusable tumblers; executives have since revised this goal downward considerably to 5 percent. The good news is that baristas in the original test stores reported brisk sales and about a 25 percent increase in refill requests. On the less optimistic side, Starbucks already offers refills for premium tumblers, and few customers avail themselves of the option.
Some customers may be put off by the material of the cup; plastic’s negative connotations are difficult to overcome. Others may forget to carry the cups with them and buy the conventional paper cups. Customers who are always on the go may find carrying the cups inconvenient. It remains to be seen whether the new cups will catch on for the long haul or are a short-term solution to an ongoing problem, but despite potential pitfalls, the cups are currently flying off the shelves.