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Starbucks temporarily bans reusable cups over coronavirus concerns


“It is totally understandable what Starbucks has chosen to do. The main aim is to look after the welfare of its employees.”

Coffee chain Starbucks has temporarily banned the use of reusable personal cups in its stores across the world due to safety concerns in relation to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Starbucks said that customers bringing in their own mugs would still get a 25p discount, but their drinks will be served in paper cups, as a precaution against the spread of infection.

Plastic lining within the paper cups makes it difficult to recycle in conventional recycling centres, and most cups end up in landfill. Hence, the coffee chain typically allows customers to bring in their own cups in to store rather than its plastic and paper “to go” options to help to reduce waste. Customers who do this get a small discount on their coffee or tea purchases.

In a statement, Starbucks (@Starbucks) said it would temporarily pause the use of personal cups or tumblers across the world.

Referring to the UK, an EMEA Starbucks spokeswoman told Bio Market Insights: “We are actively monitoring the situation and taking precautionary measures to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of our partners (employees) and customers. Out of an abundance of caution, we are pausing the use of personal cups or tumblers in our stores across the UK.”

Essentially, companies like Starbucks are preventing the risk of transmission to customers or to their workers by simply not allowing these cups to be used for now.

In 2010, Starbucks launched a campaign promoting the use of personal cups/tumblers to reduce its paper waste output. According to the coffee chain, “in 2011 customers brought their own tumblers into our stores more than 34 million times, saving more than 1.5 million pounds of paper from landfills”.

In the UK, in 2018, Starbucks approached environmental charity Hububb about trialling a 5p charge on any hot drink bought in a disposable cup. After approaching the charity, Starbucks introduced this charge across the whole of the UK in order to boost the use of reusable cups and prevent waste. The funds raised from this charge goes to Hubbub to help it to promote environmental campaigns that tackle plastic pollution. However, due to the coronavirus, the 5p charge has been suspended.

Hububb (@hubbubUK) CEO and founder Trewin Restorick told Bio Market Insights: “It is totally understandable what Starbucks has chosen to do. The main aim is to look after the welfare of its employees.

“Every business is responding in different ways to the virus. Starbucks has chosen to temporarily suspended the use of reusable personal cups in its stores.

“In the long term, we hope that more reusable containers are used. This is the right thing to happen.”

Separately, it is not entirely clear how the coronavirus outbreak will have a long-term impact on the bio-based industry. Some social media users have speculated that retailers may reintroduce plastic packaging measures to package certain foodstuffs. Coronavirus fears have lead to the oil price dropping, which could have a negative impact on the biochemicals sector and make fossil fuel-based materials cheaper than bio-based ones.

However, there have also been plus points for the environment. Pollution monitoring satellites from NASA and the European Space Agency have detected significant decreases of nitrogen dioxide over China since 1 January, following the outbreak of the virus — evidence that the noxious gas being emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities has nearly come to a complete stop.

Emma Priestland, Corporate Campaign Coordinator at Break Free From Plastic, said: “All measures to protect against Covid-19 should be based on clear scientific evidence of efficacy.

“We hope this is the basis of the move by Starbucks away from reusable cups, and we would welcome transparency on their decision making process. It’s also very important that this action is time limited and, once the virus risk has passed, they return to encouraging reusables and reducing plastic.”

Updated story on 10 March, 8.55am.

If you were interested in this bioeconomy story, you may also be interested in the ones below. 

Read: Starbucks commits $10M to solving their cup problem; continues research into bio-liner solution.

Read:The first bioplastic coffee cup could prevent 2.5 billion takeaway cups going to landfill.

Read:Costa Coffee are cleaning up their act to stop 30 million paper cups going to landfill.

Read:Coffee fuels people and now its waste is an exciting new bio-based resource.

Read:Coffee as strong as cement? Building the future of construction.

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