Millions of Paper Cups Later, Starbucks Offers a $1 Reusable Option

Takepart.com

You have to hand it to Starbucks. The iconic coffee seller always seems to make headlines for its valiant attempts at ecological responsibility. Its latest was introduced this week when the chain rolled out the sale of reusable cups to consumers for the very reasonable price of $1.

Starbucks' new reusable plastic tumblers were introduced into stores throughout the U.S. and Canada in an effort to curb waste caused by its regular paper cups.

The Los Angeles Times reports an earlier test run of the program showed that customer use of reusable drinkware went up by 55 percent when it was available on the cheap. The tumblers look just like Starbucks’ iconic white cups with the green circular logo, but they’re made of plastic and cost a dollar.

MORE: Starbucks Hopes Used Coffee Grounds and Stale Muffins Will Turn Into World's Next Biofuel

Though Starbucks has long since offered reusable tumblers for sale, none have come close to being this inexpensive. Capable of fitting a tall or grande-sized coffee, the plastic cup pays for itself after ten refills since customers get 10 cents off their purchase each time they use it. 

But that doesn’t mean the company’s abandoned hopes of recycling its paper products. It still expects to have 100 percent of its paper products recycled by 2015. Why not sooner? As TakePart reported earlier this year, the company had some difficulty recycling its paper cups because of their inner liner, which sealed in hot liquid but also hindered the recycling process. However, according to Starbucks’ website, the company has since cracked that code, and by partnering with Paper Recovery Alliance, expects to make front-of-the-house recycling bins a mainstay in all its stores just three years from now.

No plan is foolproof, however. Yes, these reusable cups are made of plastic. Is it recycled plastic? Starbucks has made no mention of that—anywhere. Where were the cups manufactured? In China. And let’s face it, in a real capitalist system, certainly Starbucks benefits as much from these efforts as does the planet. After all, reusable cups mean that more people can serve as walking ad-space for the company. And Starbucks can strengthen its emotional connection to consumers by making them feel good about themselves, even if they purchase the cup and never use it.

MORE: Starbucks Goes Green With a Store the Size of a Studio Apartment

Nonetheless, doing something to cut into waste is better than doing nothing at all. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away annually. And it takes 20 million trees and 12 billion gallons of water in order to make those paper cups. That’s enough energy to power 53,000 homes.

But retail-centered efforts to curb landfill waste are proving that small changes can make big differences. According to The Wall Street Journal, after Washington, D.C. banned plastic bags, the number of single-use plastic bags fell by 60 percent in the city within the first 12 months alone.

Though reusable cups may not cure all of our environmental ills, at its heart, Starbucks' plan can offer consumers a viable option for curbing their own waste—one that will hopefully inspire more businesses to do the same.

Will you be purchasing Starbucks’ new reusable tumbler? Let us know in the Comments.

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com

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