Reusable Cups At Starbucks…Not Now, We Can’t Afford It

by TheGroundBean on April 17, 2012

Starbuck Reusable CupsStarbucks makes no small plans, but occasionally one of its endeavors must shrink.

It cut back on stores and employees during the recession, and recently it downsized an environmental goal.

The coffee colossus once aimed by 2015 to have 25 percent of all drinks served in reusable cups — including mugs in Starbucks stores and customers’ cups.

Now it has the much humbler goal of serving 5 percent of drinks in tumblers.

That compares to the 1.9 percent of drinks that were served in tumblers at Starbucks’ company-owned stores in the United States, the U.K., Canada and Ireland last year — a 55 percent increase over three years, the company said.

Starbucks said it changed the goals for two reasons. About 80 percent of the drinks Starbucks serves are “to go,” so focusing on that crowd will have the greatest effect, said Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental impact.

The use of in-store mugs also was harder to track than tumblers, he said. Because Starbucks offers a 10 cent discount to customers who bring their own tumblers, that can be tracked with a special discount key on cash registers.

Hanna also said serving customers in ceramic cups costs more because it increases the need for busing tables and washing dishes.

Still, Starbucks wants more customers to use ceramic, he said.

To that end, it’s making mugs more visible in redesigned stores. Rather than hiding behind counters, mugs for in-store use will be visible from where customers order.

Conrad MacKerron, a program director at the As You Sow Foundation in San Francisco, which has pushed Starbucks to adopt bolder recycling initiatives in the past, wishes Starbucks had not backed away from its 25 percent goal.

“That’s an area where they have more control, because they can strongly encourage mugs and tumblers on-site,” he said. “If they really went to town on that, it could really make a dent.”

He doesn’t understand why Starbucks can track the use of tumblers to go but not in-store ceramics.

“It’s hard to believe that’s an issue that could not be fixed,” MacKerron said.

But, he said, the chain has made good progress on recycling paper cups.

Last year, it more than tripled the number of stores that offer recycling for customers — from 5 to 18 percent — in the U.S. and Canada. It hopes to have front-of-store recycling in all company-owned stores by 2015.

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