No, Starbucks Is Not Getting Rid of Its Iconic Disposable Cups

And yet the coffee giant is moving in a planet-friendly direction

A Starbucks employee holding a tray of four Starbucks holiday cups. In March 2022 the company announced new reusable initiatives, not that it was eliminating disposable, single-use cups.
Are Starbucks holiday cups on the chopping block?

Earlier this week, the Starbucks faithful were completely blindsided by an announcement from the company. According to one report, the coffee chain’s goal is to “ditch disposable cups by 2025.” Another said they’re planning to “phase out paper cups in the U.S. and Canada.” Some dire stories even proclaimed the Seattle company wants to “eliminate its iconic cups by the end of next year.”

We know how fired up people get about the new holiday cup designs every year, so we can only imagine the Facebook comments currently piling up about the potential to cut the holiday cups — no, all disposable cups! — entirely. That would mean only two more holiday seasons to go! And does this mean Millennials and Gen Zers will no longer be able to post photos of their unicorn Frappuccinos artfully displayed in giant plastic vessels? Will we no longer bond over baristas spelling our names wrong? Will we be forced to consider the completely unnecessary single-use waste catastrophe we’ve taken for granted for so long? 

Before you drive to your nearest Starbucks and ask for an entire sleeve of cups, let’s take a look at what the company actually said. 

According to a press release ahead of their annual shareholders meeting, Starbucks said it is “shifting away from single-use plastics and piloting reusable cup programs in six markets around the world.”

“By the end of next year, customers will be able to use their own personal reusable cup for every Starbucks visit in the U.S. and Canada – including in café, drive-thru and mobile order and pay,” the company wrote. “Our goal, by 2025, is to create a cultural movement towards reusables by giving customers easy access to a personal or Starbucks provided reusable to-go cup for every visit, making it convenient and delightful to reuse wherever customers are enjoying their Starbucks Experience.” 

There’s nothing in there about removing their “iconic cups” entirely. In fact, CNN Business spoke to Michael Kobori, the chief sustainability officer at Starbucks, and while he said that ending disposable cups is “the holy grail,” it’s not currently in their sights.

“​​The goals don’t mean Starbucks will get rid of the paper and plastic cups,” CNN explained. “But they do want to make that option less attractive. That won’t be easy to do, as most Starbucks customers are used to that simple, single-use option.”

Naturally, Starbucks wants to offer itself up as an eco-friendly company to a public that is more and more concerned about climate change and pollution every day (as it should be). But it also wants to keep making boatloads of money. At the moment, their solution to that is putting the onus on customers to adopt their new strategies, which include bringing their own personal cups, drinking from a mug or glass in-store, or using a “Borrow-A-Cup” program where customers pay a $1 (or so) deposit to get a durable plastic cup that is then returned for the dollar and then reused. 

That’s what they mean by “cultural movement towards reusables.” They’re going to promote reusable cups, but they’ll still offer disposable ones.

Would I prefer a company like Starbucks to sacrifice potential profits in the name of our planet (and the human race’s continued future on it) and simply eliminate disposable cups entirely? Of course. But the coffee chain is also better than most corporate entities when it comes to sustainability goals, and more chain stores should be taking a page out of their book. Along with the reusable plans, they also announced a pilot program with Volvo Cars to install electric car chargers at 15 stores between Seattle and Denver, which is exactly the kind of EV infrastructure we desperately need — charging stations erected by companies outside the traditional EV space.

So while Starbucks may not be ending disposable cups, maybe you’ll be part of their cultural movement anyway. After all, if I had to choose between swiping a single-use holiday cup and continuing on with my fast-paced existence or taking a 20-minute break to sit in a Starbucks store with a real mug while the Charlie Brown Christmas album plays over the speakers, I’m going with Vince Guaraldi.


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