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Starbucks revives reusable cup use after pandemic pause

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Key Points
  • Starbucks customers can start using their personal cups again at company-owned locations in the United States on June 22.
  • Starbucks and other restaurants and retailers are making strides to return to business as usual after changing many policies due to the pandemic.
  • The coffee giant paused the reusable cup program in March 2020.

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SeongJoon Cho| Bloomberg | Getty Images

Starbucks on Tuesday announced that customers can start using reusable cups at company-owned cafes again on June 22, after pausing the program due to Covid-19.

It's the latest signal from restaurants and retailers that business is returning to normal in the U.S. as states relax restrictions. Last month, Starbucks and many other businesses stopped requiring fully vaccinated customers to wear masks in stores. Costco is starting to bring back in-store samples, while Target has reopened its fitting rooms.

To fill a customer's personal cup, a Starbucks barista will first check that the cup is clean and place it in a ceramic vessel. The beverage will be made without any contact with the cup, and the customer will pick up their drink at the handoff area of the counter. Only clean cups will be accepted. Reusable cups will not be accepted at drive-thru lanes, although the company is testing ways to do so safely at its Tryer Center in Seattle.

Prior to the health crisis, Starbucks had offered a 10-cent discount to customers who brought in their own cups. In March 2020, it paused the decades-old program in North America, citing the growing threat of the virus.

Despite its longevity, few customers take advantage of the program. Starbucks runs through roughly 7 billion disposable cups every year, weighing on its goal to become resource positive eventually. It's currently testing initiatives to cut down on its usage of disposable cups, including launching a circular cup program in South Korea this summer. By 2025, the company will offer a reusable cup program across all locations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Shares of the coffee giant have risen 4% this year, giving the company a market value of $131 billion.

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