Starbucks Unveils Eco-friendly Cups Reducing Plastic Waste by 20%

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The surge in popularity of chilled beverages at Starbucks has raised an environmental conundrum: escalating levels of disposable plastic waste stemming from the single-use cups that house their Frappuccinos, Refreshers, cold brews and a variety of iced drinks. The coffee titan, however, announced plans on Thursday to mitigate the mounting waste problem by introducing new disposable cups containing up to 20% less plastic. The first phase of the cup roll-out is set to take place in U.S. and Canadian outlets within this month.

Amelia Landers, Starbucks’ dedicated vice president of product innovation, explained that the Seattle-based company poured four relentless years into the creation of these improved containers. Engineers conducted thorough tests of thousands of versions of this reduced-plastic cup which could maintain its sturdy quality despite a reduction in plastic content. Landers proudly discussed the achievement, “We feel like it’s industry-leading. It’s the best expression of a cold plastic cup.”

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In a substantial shift from past trends, Starbucks revealed that Frappuccinos and other chilled drinks now represent a massive 75% of its U.S. beverage sales, sailing up from a mere 37% in 2013. Through a rough calculation, the corporate powerhouse estimates the new cups will prevent more than 13.5 million pounds of plastic from heading to landfills each year. The production process of these innovatively designed tumblers also conserves water and minimizes carbon emissions— a well-known contributor to climate change.

Reduction of plastic isn’t the only upgrade accomplished in this redesign. Convenience and inclusivity have also been considered. The restructured cold cups now include elevated dots near the base, enabling even vision-impaired baristas to discern the size of the cup with a swift thumb swipe. Furthermore, the 12-ounce “tall” cup is now shorter and broader to accommodate a universal lid size for larger cups.

This particular list of upgrades isn’t a one-and-done for Starbucks, but rather part of an ongoing sustainability crusade. The coffee giant previously swapped to strawless lids in 2019 and opened up last year to accepting customer-owned cups for drive-thru and mobile orders in the U.S. and Canada. Expanding horizons further, Starbucks is planning to inaugurate a reusable cup program across numerous stores in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa next year. Customers will make a small deposit to purchase a specially designed cup, usable up to 30 times, and receive their deposit back upon its return. The company has also piloted reusable cup initiatives in California, Arizona, and Colorado.

Landers observed the diversity of each market: “Every market has their own challenges, their own requirements and customer behavior. Some are more prime for reusables, some are less prime for reusables. There is no one silver bullet to a sustainable cup.” She added, the resilience of Starbucks in this pursuit is unwavering. “I think we will never take our foot off the gas, evaluating new ways and new methods and new technologies to go further. We’re not done.”

Starbucks isn’t the only corporation reconsidering its plastic packaging footprint. In select markets, McDonald’s has rolled out McFlurry cups sans plastic lids and has transitioned salad boxes and cutlery to renewable fiber. In late 2020, Coca-Cola rolled out an impressive 900 bottles entirely made from plant-based sources, signaling the commercial scalability of the technology.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.