Personal cups/tumblers
Personal cups/tumblers

Bring in Your Own Tumbler:

This blog is about encouraging Starbucks customers to use a personal tumbler or ask for their beverage in for-here ware.

Yes, of course I believe that recycling paper cups is a good idea, but there is much more to the story than simply the paper cup itself. The story is really about consumer habit and resistance to any modus operandi a little less convenient to them.  This has to change. There is work to be done here, and we can only create consumer change if we start the conversation on why it  has to change.

By way of background, on one can easily find that the site is flooded with threads like, “Recyclable Cups!“.  Here are a few examples:

(Some of the above are closed or merged threads).

I participate heavily on and often want to write long responses to these kinds of threads, but that site is not conducive to long posts.  These many repetitive threads shouting at Starbucks to please recycle paper cups are the inspiration for this blog post.

*****A non-Starbucks you-tube video as a starting point for discussion*****

First off, there is a you tube video here taking a small swipe at Starbucks for not doing more to encourage recycling and using personal tumblers:

^ It’s worth watching, whether you’re a Starbucks fan or not.  I can’t vouch for the factual accuracy of all the data that you-tube video but it  is loaded with eye-popping statistics:

North America uses 60% of the world’s paper cups. 130 billion of them per year” and “those cups require about 50 million trees” and another eye-opener, “Starbucks goes through nearly 2.3 billion cups annually

The above you-tube video is a little dated. For example it states that there are NO recycle bins at Starbucks.  As I write this in November 2009, that no longer is a completely true statement.  Increasingly, as stores get remodeled, and new LEED Certified stores open, we see recycle bins in here and there.

List of Starbucks with recycle bins:

Washington State:

Baristas have written to me to tell about their stores recycle efforts, and so I’ve heard that these stores here have recycling in them also:


New Jersey

South Carolina

As I hear about company-operated Starbucks stores with recycle bins included in them, I’d be glad to add them to this list. PLEASE email me if you know of a company-operated Starbucks with recycle bins. Use the “Contact” form associated with this website or email me at

According to the Fiscal 2008 Annual Report, as of September 28, 2008, Starbucks operated 9,217 company operated stores.  Think about how many paper cups could be saved if customers brought in their own tumbler:

If 100 people a day brought in their own personal tumbler, annually Starbucks would use about 921,700 fewer paper cups each year! That’s a lot of paper cups.  That’s almost a million cups!

*****How many customers are using a personal cup at Starbucks?*****

When baristas ring a transaction as including a personal cup discount, that data gets collected and mined and used to supply information in the Annual Shared Planet report.  There is no doubt, there is more personal cup usage than the appalling low number in the Shared Planet report due to forgotten cup discounts.  When you bring in your own cup, Starbucks gives you ten-cents off your drink purchase.

When a cup discount is forgotten, I think the barista should re-ring the transaction to include the cup discount.  It is the only way to make a difference and make your mark as a person using your own tumbler. Unfortunately, in my own experience, it is rare for a barista to re-ring the transaction. I cringe, but most commonly I see baristas reach into the tip jar and pull out a dime.  And I’m left thinking, “it’s not about your dime. I didn’t mean to tip a dime less. I want to make a difference with Starbucks.”  I’ve stopped arguing with baristas though.  Most seem to think I actually want a dime, and I get some really odd looks if I say things like, “I’m trying to make a difference with Starbucks”.  At a fundamental level though, I think most customers would say that making a difference to the planet is the reason why they use their own tumbler, and it’s not about the dime.

So this discussion begs the all important question, ‘what percentage of customers are using a personal cup?’.  The answer is 1.3 percent. This is appallingly low.  Less than 2 out of 100 customers walk in with a personal tumbler in their hands.  Even more surprising, according to Starbucks, this number is a fairly constant and stable number over a pattern of several years.

This is shocking! Customers, please bring in your own cup!! If you want to claim environmental friendliness, then you’ll make it a habit to have a cup in your car, in backpack, in your briefcase, it needs to be part of your routine.  What if Starbucks used a million fewer paper cups each year?  How about five million?  All I know is that with personal cup usage at an appalling low rate, there is huge room to save trees, landfills, and energy … All by YOU making a commitment not to use a paper cup.

Here is what Starbucks has to say about personal cup use (taken from their 2008 Shared Planet report):

Reusable mugs and cups.

“A lot of our customers are also working to reduce their own environmental impact even as we are. To help them help us, we offer a 10-cent discount in the U.S. and Canada to encourage customers to use their own reuable (sic) mugs for their beverages. Customers staying in a store can also request that their beverages be served in a ceramic mug.

Our U.S. and Canadian customers increased their use of reusable mugs to nearly 22 million times during fiscal 2008 – representing nearly one million pounds (454,000 kilograms) of paper saved. The percentage of total transactions where reusable mugs were used remained constant at 1.3 percent.

We think good habits should start with us. So we’ve challenged our U.S. partners (employees) to use only for-here cups for their own beverages – which would save more than 39 million cups per year. We’ve also asked them to encourage for-here customers to use ceramic cups and commuter mugs when they are taking their beverage to go.”

(Typo in original text).

Starbucks customers need to get into the habit of using their own tumbler.  There are lots of good reasons to use your own cup.  First off, you save ten-cents on your beverage.  Secondly, it is less likely that someone will mistakenly grab the wrong drink. In addition, a customer’s drink will stay warmer longer in a stainless steel tumbler than a paper cup.  And the beverage will taste better!

*****The current Starbucks paper cup*****

Many people ask the question, “Why isn’t the Starbucks paper cup easily recycled?”  The answer is that the cup includes a very fine plastic lining inside of it which is what gives the cup its superb durability.  The Starbucks paper cup was designed to hold very hot beverages and not burn the hands, and not deteriorate when full with very hot coffee.

The current Starbucks paper cup has an outer-shell which is composed of ten-percent post-consumer recycled material, and then an inner lining of low density polyethylene.  The current cup does have impact by reducing virgin tree wood because of the recycled paper fiber in the cup, but it simply doesn’t function as the “green” cup that many consumers and Starbucks partners aspire to proudly show off in their hands.

The current paper cup IS fully recyclable in some cities, but the overwhelming majority of municipalities and jurisdictions will not recycle this current cup due to its polyethylene plastic lining.

*****The future of the Starbucks paper cup*****

The future of the Starbucks paper cup is the quest for an easily recyclable paper cup.  I question whether Starbucks will ever find anything quite as durable as the current cup sans plastic lining.  But that is the challenge.

In May 2009, Starbucks hosted a Cup Summit at their headquarters.  Starbucks brought together thinkers, retailers, cup producers, and stakeholders all in one place to advance the goal of the fully recyclable cup.  Of course in tandem with the goal of the fully recyclable paper cup, is the goal of increasing personal cup use and for-here ware use at Starbucks stores.

The time-frame announced by Starbucks for the recyclable cup is that Starbucks plans to develop and launch this cup by 2012, and that it will be in wide-spread use by 2015.  Starbucks has stated that when the cup is first developed, it will be tested in key metropolitan markets first, and then its use expanded further to more locations.  These goals can be found in the Shared Planet report and Starbucks blogs too.

When all is said and done, hand in hand with Starbucks goals, customers need to change their habits. Just as many customers now bring their own bags to the grocery store, it’s time to bring your own tumbler.  I leave you with the Starbucks cup goals as stated in the 2008 Shared Planet report:

Starbucks goals
Starbucks goals