- Starbucks announced plans to include a 5 pence surcharge on disposable cups at all 950 of its U.K. stores, as reported by Business Green. An existing 25 pence discount for bringing reusable cups will remain in place.
- The company made this decision after a three-month trial in London in which the amount of people bringing reusable cups increased from 2.2% to 5.8%. For morning rush hours specifically, the number rose to 8%. This progress was evaluated by environmental charity Hubbub, which will also distribute funding from the new surcharge to various plastic reduction campaigns.
- This news comes during the same week as the company's global announcement of phasing out plastic straws by 2020. The majority of cold drinks will now come with sippable lids, and any straws used will be compostable. The new lid has been piloted in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and will debut in North America as the default lid at stores in Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Starbucks is the latest in a series of high profile companies to jump on the straw bandwagon. McDonald's, SeaWorld, Hyatt and others have all done the same. The company's headquarter city of Seattle also became the first major U.S. municipality to enact such a policy this month, and similar discussions are underway around the country.
While the little pieces of plastic have an undeniable presence as litter, some in the recycling world have questioned whether the focus on them is a distraction. Compared to say fishing gear, the items comprise a minimal portion of marine debris. Yet supporters of the #StopSucking movement maintain that any piece of prevented plastic counts. They view this as a way to change cultural consumption norms in the same way that plastic bag policies have attempted.
In the case of Starbucks, the real waste issue is plastic-lined coffee cups. Earlier this year, the company announced a multi-million dollar research "moon shot" with Closed Loop Partners to develop new recycling options. The cup conversation has become predominant in U.K. culture over the past few years, prompting talk of a nationwide "latte levy" and a variety of moves from other large retailers. Recycling pilots are underway, both at stores and in downtown business corridors, along with various incentives for bringing reusable mugs.
If the concept of a per cup fee does catch on overseas, it will be interesting to watch whether such a concept could ever work in the U.S., where the politics around any packaging fees remain highly charged.