Starbucks temporarily ditches its classic to-go cups in 5 cities

Starbucks has a new cup at that's a little greener than what customers are used to. And no, we're not talking about its color.

As part of its initiative to implement more sustainable practices by 2022, the Seattle-based coffee chain is switching out the plastic liners in its classic paper cups and replacing them with biodegradable ones for a limited time.

The new, eco-friendly cups started rolling out Monday at select locations in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Vancouver, British Columbia. According to a company spokesperson, the cups look and feel the same as the ones customers are accustomed to, they just have "an innovative cup liner" called BioPBS that is certified compostable and recyclable. However, a few people at the TODAY office noticed that their hot coffee cups from Starbucks felt a little more pliable and, without a sleeve, the cup was much hotter to the touch.

The chain estimates that it goes through 6 billion paper and plastic to-go cups each year. Unfortunately, due to the wide range of recycling capabilities across different state municipalities, many of them (even the paper ones) end up in a landfill.

"Recycling facilities' ability to accept hot cups varies from city to city — some have the necessary infrastructure to properly recycle the cups, and others don't," a Starbucks spokesperson told TODAY Food.

"The current cup is technically recyclable, where paper hot cups are accepted," she continued. "But for cities that don't have the recycling infrastructure to accept hot cups, the cup goes into landfill, like all plastic-lined hot and cold cups."

The new cups, however, can be tossed into any type of recycling or compost bin. Part of the test phase is to evaluate and validate the BioPBS cups' recyclability across various cities in the U.S. and beyond. The testing phase will also determine how functional they are.

As new cups continue to roll out in limited markets, both employees and customers are being encouraged to weigh in on how the biodegradable cups hold up, particularly in terms of durability and keeping beverages hot.

In February 2019, Starbucks joined the NextGen Consortium, an investment platform for sustainable consumer goods, to crowdsource ideas for a new to-go cup design.

It hosted a contest challenging companies and consumers to design their own sustainable cups for a prize of $1 million. The BioPBS cup is the first submission from the contest to rollout to the mainstream market.

The spokesperson for the chain would not confirm exactly how long the cup test is slated to run. 

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