What Starbucks’ Plan to Phase Out Its Paper Cups Means for You Right Now

The coffee brand is moving into a more sustainable future and wants you to tag along.

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The cup size names, the fun holiday cup designs, the minimal white and green look—there are a bunch of reasons why Starbucks' cups are a big part of its brand. But pretty soon, fans may be seeing a little less of the iconic paper cups, as the company plans to phase them out for more reusable options.

The coffee empire announced earlier this week that it plans to move away from the disposable espresso vessels with a goal to "create a cultural movement toward reusables by making it easier for customers to use personal Starbucks-provided reusable cups for every visit." Basically, Starbucks hopes that—in the coming years—every customer will either use their own mug or borrow a ceramic or reusable to-go mug from their local Starbucks locations. That way, fewer paper cups will end up in landfills.

So, what does this mean for Starbucks customers right now?

Before you run to Amazon to get the perfect bedazzled reusable coffee cup, you still have some time to adjust your coffee ordering habit accordingly. When reached via email, a Starbucks spokesperson told Thrillist that you currently have a few different options for avoiding its single-use paper cups, saying, "Customers can bring in a clean, personal reusable cup in-store and receive a $.10 discount on their beverage of choice." The spokesperson also said that for customers who want to sit and enjoy their order in the cafe, the'll be offered reusable "for-here-ware." And for customers who forget their reusable cup at home, but are typically on their cup game, Starbucks is testing "Borrow-A-Cup" programs around the world, including in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and Singapore, with plans to expand them in additional countries over the next year.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Starbucks has used reusable cups. The company announced back in June that it would again allow customers to use their own reusable cups for orders instead of single-use ones after suspending that offering due to the pandemic.

When can we expect to see more Starbucks cup changes?

Things will get a bit more interesting by the end of 2023. If you're in the US and Canada, you'll be able to use your own reusable cup for every Starbucks visit, including when you swing through the drive-thru or place a mobile order—not just when you have your coffee to stay.

Ideally, every customer will either use their own mug or borrow one via one of Starbucks' programs by 2025, according to the company. These plans could help reduce 50% of the company's waste by 2030.

What incentives will Starbucks provide to customers to increase reusable cup use?

To help push along the new initiative, the company plans to inspire customers to use reusable cups with its annual reusable red cup giveaway, free coffee promotions, and partnerships and donation opportunities. The company will even be exploring new technology like personal cup washing stations to make the whole process a little easier to pull off.

There may also be additional financial incentives beyond the existing 10-cent discount.

Will Starbucks eventually charge more for customers who opt for disposable cups?

It's possible. In fact, Starbucks rolled out a 5-cent charge for paper cups at its locations in Germany back in early 2020. It's looking at similar fees to see what actually results in customers changing their habits in favor or reusable options.

Does this mean Starbucks will completely get rid of its paper cups?

As far as single-use cups totally disappearing all together, the verdict is still out. The Starbucks spokesperson told Thrillist that disposable cups will still be available until the company has found a solid, long-term solution. In the meantime, it'll continue its work to make the paper cups more sustainable. 

As the spokesperson put it, "While a shift to reusables is a primary strategy toward achieving our Planet Positive goals, finding better ways to manage waste with more sustainable packaging solutions and advocating for a more robust recycling industry are priorities that can deliver short-term impact."

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Janae Price is a News Staff Writer at Thrillist. She's a native New Yorker and loves all things cheese, K-pop, and culture. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @janae_larie.