Starbucks is letting people bring in their own mugs again

Starbucks is putting a new system in place for personal mugs. Credit: Starbucks
By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- Starbucks will let customers bring their own mugs to US company-owned cafes again starting on June 22.

Before the pandemic, the coffee chain encouraged customers to bring their own reusable mugs to stores. But in March of last year, Starbucks suspended the program throughout the world because of the coronavirus. Starbucks has been gradually bringing it back in international markets and is now ready to reinstate the program in the United States — with some changes.

Before the pandemic, baristas would clean visibly dirty mugs before refilling them. But now employees will only accept clean mugs, and they won't touch them: Instead, a customer will place their own cup into a larger ceramic mug. The barista will hold the ceramic mug's handle rather than the cup when preparing the drink. Once the beverage is ready, the customer will pick their cup up from within the mug. Personal mugs that don't fit will be placed on trays.

Starbucks will also resume offering drinks in reusable mugs for people who plan to consume their beverages on premise. Customers who go through Starbucks' drive-thru still have to accept their drinks in Starbucks' disposable cups.

Starbucks has been trying for years to reduce waste by developing a more environmentally-friendly disposable cup and increasing the number of customers who use reusable mugs.

That can be a challenge: It's much easier to get a to-go cup and throw it out when you're done than to remember to bring your own mug, or return one provided by the store. But if Starbucks doesn't offer the option, it runs the risk of losing environmentally-conscious customers to a competitor. And the concept is gaining popularity: Companies from Burger King to McDonald's have been testing out reusable packaging.

To reduce the use of disposable cups in stores, Starbucks offers a modest ten cent discount to people who bring their own mugs. It has also tested fees for disposable cups in Germany and the United Kingdom. This spring, it started testing a "borrow a cup" program in a handful of stores in Seattle, which allows customers to order drinks in reusable cups. To participate, customers have to pay a $1 refundable deposit. They must return the cup when they've finished their drinks or get it picked up from home to get the deposit back.

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