Starbucks plastic cups are getting a makeover

Apr 18, 2024, 11:00 AM

A clear plastic cup from Starbucks features new black and white fill lines....

A clear plastic cup from Starbucks features new black and white fill lines. (Connor Surdi/Courtesy Starbucks via CNN Newsource)

(Connor Surdi/Courtesy Starbucks via CNN Newsource)

New York (CNN) — The next time you order an iced coffee from Starbucks, it might not look that different — but there’s been a major change.

The chain announced Thursday that the plastic cups for all sizes of its cold drinks have undergone an environmentally friendly redesign that uses up to 20% less plastic compared to the current version. The redesign is the company’s latest effort to reduce the environmental impacts from its cups, which have been criticized for piling up waste.

Starbucks plastic cups to be more environmentally friendly

The new cups were developed internally at Starbucks as part of its ongoing sustainability efforts to reduce its waste and carbon output in half by 2030. Similar to other large companies, the chain wants to cut down on its reliance on plastic because the material is mostly made from polymers created from dangerous fossil fuels.

The new cups will debut at select US and Canada locations this year, with the full rollout expected to be complete by spring 2025.

In addition to using less plastic for the cups themselves — Starbucks projects the new cups will save more than 13.5 million pounds of plastic going to landfills annually — it is “projected to reduce emissions and conserve water in the production process,” the chain said.

Starbucks said it conducted tests with baristas and customers to ensure the changeover doesn’t reduce the cups’ sturdiness or ability to keep drinks cold.

Slight design tweaks includes the addition of new accessibility features, including black and white “fill lines” that allows for contrast against light and dark-colored drinks.

Another change is that tall, grande and venti cups now use the same-sized lid; in the past, the tall cup used its own lid and grande and venti cups shared the same one.

For employees, that will cut down on clutter and save time finding the correct lid. Starbucks also said that it added embossed letters on the bottom of the cup, so “baristas can quickly confirm what size they’re grabbing during a busy rush when all the cups are stacked upside down.”

Starbucks notes its largest trenta size, which holds 31 ounces, will still use a different lid size.

Sustainability struggles

Cups — and the waste they create — have long been a major issue for Starbucks.

In January, the chain expanded the way customers can have their drinks filled with their own cups by adding option to drive-thru and app orders.

Other sustainable ideas Starbucks have tried included experimenting with a borrow-a-cup program, in which customers pay a deposit for a durable cup that they take with them and drop back off after use.

In a test location in Seattle in 2021, customers paid a $1 deposit and had to return the recyclable cup to a smart bin located in the store to get their dollar back. The company has tested similar pilot programs in Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Still, these tests and changes aren’t enough to solve the “plastic crisis,” according to Emma Priestland, global corporate campaigns coordinator for Break Free from Plastic.

“While the world urgently needs to cut plastic production for the sake of the climate, from the perspective of waste management and the amount of plastic pollution entering the environment, simply reducing the amount of plastic but keeping the same number of plastic items is a false solution,” she told CNN.

Priestland suggests that Starbucks develop reusable and returnable on-the-go cups to help them fully achieve their sustainability goals.

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Starbucks plastic cups are getting a makeover