Putting convenience front and centre for reusability

Starbucks is testing a pioneering approach of ‘returnable cups’, seeking to make reusable cups as easy an option as single-use. London and Geneva will be some of the first European cities to explore the approach, with customer and employee feedback used to pave the way towards expansion of a reusables solution in over 4,000 Starbucks stores across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Hubbub has assisted with the campaign design, measurement, and employee engagement. 

The ‘returnable cup programme’ is launching in four Canary Wharf cafes and a drive-thru store in East London. It allows customers to opt for a reusable cup in the same way they would a single use cup. Research by Hubbub and others has revealed that over a third of people don’t use a reusable cup every time they buy a hot drink purely because they forgot their cup. To overcome this barrier, customers will be able to ask for their drink to be served in a returnable cup simply putting down a £1 deposit which they will receive back when returning it. All customers opting for a returnable cup will also receive the Starbucks 25p reusable discount. All returned cups will be professionally cleaned and sanitised before further reuse. 

This is how it works for a customer:

Order: Pay a £1 deposit for the reusable cup

Reward: Receive 3 Starbucks Rewards stars for your deposit and 25p discount every time you save a cup

Enjoy: Use the reusable cup on-the-go for as long as you like

Return: Give your cup back to Starbucks anytime, clean, or dirty, and receive your deposit back (via cash, debit card or Rewards account)

Clean: The cup is professionally cleaned and sanitised

Repeat: Save a cup, again and again…

A long-term partnership to reduce waste, boost recycling and cut littering

The campaign is part of Starbucks’ ambition to reduce waste by 50% by 2030 and is the continuation of a long-term partnership with Hubbub seeking to reduce waste, boost recycling and cut littering. This partnership began with the introduction of a 5p charge on single-use coffee cups which immediately doubled the uptake of reusable cups, has seen extensive investment in coffee cup recycling facilities across the UK including mainline railway stations, and funding for anti-littering campaigns along UK rivers and on high streets.

The partnership has explored how to boost the take-up of reusable cups, including ‘Grab your Cup’ a campaign with a radio jingle in Manchester and a trial at Gatwick Airport in 2019 which discovered that customers are either ‘sippers’ or ‘on-the-go’ coffee drinkers. ‘Sippers’ want to sit and enjoy their cup of coffee and are happy to return their cup while remaining in store throughout. However, ‘on-the-go’ drinkers are much harder to engage because they require greater convenience and are much less likely to return their cup if it requires going out of their way. It is this group that the trial aims to reach and improve accessibility. 

The need for clear and compelling communications

The Gatwick trial revealed the essential role that Starbucks employees play in ensuring communications to customers are clear and compelling. Building on this understanding, Hubbub has been running training events for Starbucks partners and Starbucks have ensured the trial has been designed to be seamless and not create additional work.

Speaking about the launch of the trial Duncan Moir, President, Starbucks EMEA said: “Our returnable cup programme puts convenience front and centre of reusability to enable customers to easily transition away from single-use, and make reusability the only option, long-term.”

A more circular future

From Hubbub’s perspective the campaign is part of our ongoing commitment to reduce reliance on single-use plastic and promote a more circular economy. In the coming months we will be revealing the projects that have secured funding through the John Lewis Partnership - The Circular Future Fund. We’ll also separately be producing a guide summarising the impact and lessons from existing return schemes across the UK. 

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