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Are Starbucks Cups Going Away?

Starbucks says it’s planning to stop using disposable cups by 2030.
© Starbucks
Starbucks is beginning to give customers reusable cups like these.

Starbucks says it’s changing the way people get their coffee. The popular chain plans to stop providing disposable cups at any of its locations by 2030.

The plan is part of Starbucks’s effort to be more environmentally friendly, which includes a goal to reduce waste, water use, and carbon emissions in half by 2030. Each year, the company uses about seven billion disposable cups at its locations worldwide. Those cups, which bear the famous green Starbucks logo, have become iconic. But they’re also terrible for the planet. Water and energy are used to produce the cups, and the cups end up in landfills when thrown away.

Some Starbucks locations have already stopped using disposable cups. At these stores, customers can either bring their own mugs from home or get their beverage in a “borrowed” reusable cup. Cups can be returned to Starbucks, where they’re cleaned and used again.

A reusable cup is placed upside down in a cleaning device that says “316 cups saved.”
© Connor Surdi/Starbucks
A reusable cup is washed in a personal cup washer at a Starbucks location in Tempe, Arizona.

Why is Starbucks doing this? Experts say companies are aware that the public is concerned about the environment. But people also like convenience, which is why fast-food chains are so popular. Companies like Starbucks are betting that customers are looking for an easy way to reduce their waste.

A worker at a drive-thru window holds out a beverage in a mug while the driver holds out another beverage container.
© Connor Surdi/Starbucks
At some Starbucks locations, customers can bring their own mugs from home.

At a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, customers get one dollar off their beverage if they bring their own mug. The discount gives customers an extra incentive to grab a mug before they leave home.

“Saving the environment is important and all, but I probably come here more knowing that I’m going to get a dollar off,” Starbucks customer Bethany Patton told the Associated Press.

Fun Fact

A glass juice bottle against a green background.
© Alexandr Kornienko/Dreamstime.com

A glass vinegar or juice bottle can easily become a reusable water bottle. Add water and a spoonful of baking soda to the empty bottle and shake it to eliminate the smell. Then clean it with soap and water or in a dishwasher.

The Hidden Cost of Fast Food

A person taps a picture of a burger on an online menu and a label about the burger’s climate impact pops up.
© Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com, © Lisovskaya—iStock/Getty Images; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Starbucks isn’t the only fast-food chain that contributes to the climate crisis. Most fast food is terrible for the planet. A big reason is that fast-food restaurants use tons of plastic and paper wrappers. Another reason has to do with the way the food is produced. For example, experts say it takes more than 400 gallons (1,500 liters) of water to make one hamburger. Not only does a cow drink water, but water is used to grow the food the cow eats.

But in 2022, a study found ways that fast-food restaurants can reduce their environmental impact. Researchers added labels to menu items. They found that when they added “high climate impact” to beef items, orders for those items fell by 23 percent. And when they put “low climate impact” next to chicken sandwiches and salads, orders for those items rose by 10 percent.

Problem Solvers

A woman sits at a computer next to a burger and imagines different sustainable food containers.
© Mykola/stock.adobe.com, © Tenny Teng/Dreamstime.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Fast-food restaurants need more sustainable containers. But who will design them? That’s the job of engineers, people who design gadgets and machines. If you’re a problem-solver, you might be interested in engineering.

Learn more at Britannica!

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