Starting in August in Petaluma, California, Starbucks is leading a city-wide collaborative reuse project to make reusable cups the default option for to-go drinks. Most reusables tests focus on customers “opting in.” The Petaluma Reusable Cup project is also unique in its extensive collaboration between public and private entities, including industry competitors, working together for the greater good, with the goal of helping shape consumer habits and cultural norms.   

In addition to Starbucks, brands like The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Peet’s Coffee and Yum! Brands are participating, alongside local cafes and restaurants, city and county governments, and community and environmental advocacy groups. Starbucks licensee partners Target and Safeway are also taking part.

The project is an initiative of the NextGen Consortium, of which Starbucks is a founding member, and will be led by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. NextGen Consortium aims to reimagine how food is packaged, accelerate sustainable solutions and help reduce waste on a global scale. 

For three months, eight Starbucks stores will participate in the reusable cup test, in which 30 total restaurants and cafes in Petaluma will offer customers a reusable cup for all hot and cold beverages. Customers can return their cups at one of more than 60 purple drop-off return bins located at Starbucks cafes and participating businesses throughout the city. The cups will then be professionally cleaned, sanitized and recirculated to be used again.  

The test cups are branded purple. The Starbucks cup will be white in front and purple on the back, and retain the fill line markings specific to Starbucks beverage recipes. All reusable cups in the test are made from BPA-free polypropylene. 

“Last year, Starbucks conducted a similar test in the same area, but we tested on our own,” says Helen Kao, director of reusables at Starbucks. “This year, we expanded on that through our partnership with NextGen Consortium to drive systems change. What if we saturated a community, and reusables became the cultural norm? Now it’s an ecosystem of global brands, local businesses, city leaders and community groups working together. The industry is realizing that it’s easier to partner than do things alone.”

Petaluma was chosen as a test market because of its dense downtown layout, high walkability and overall climate in support of reuse and policies phasing out single-use packaging.

The test will measure consumer engagement when reusable cups are the default option and provide insights on how this model could work on a larger scale to reduce the number of single-use cups. NextGen Consortium estimates that across the US, more than 50 billion single-use cups are thrown away each year.