Starbucks Debuts $1 Reusable Tumbler

Offering dime discount for each refill

SEATTLE -- Amid public pressure to curb trash from disposable cups, Starbucks has rolled out a solution: a $1 reusable tumbler. The Seattle-based coffee giant will start selling the plastic cups, bearing its logo and resembling the paper version, at all its company-owned stores in the United States and Canada in a bid to get customers to kick their throwaway habit, said a USA Today report. It will give a dime discount for each refill so the cup pays for itself after 10 uses.

Jim Hanna, director of environmental affairs for Starbucks, said the company, in addition to working with paper mills to get more of its disposable paper cups recycled, has long sold reusable tumblers, but expects the low price of its new one will prompt change. He said its test-marketing in 600 Pacific Northwest stores boosted the number of reusable cups 26% in those stores last November, compared with the same month a year earlier.

"It's not a burden for people to buy two or three," he told the newspaper, noting Starbucks will clean them for customers with a boiling-water rinse before each refill. The cups, made in China for less than $1, have interior lines to denote a "tall" or "grande" size.

Others are skeptical. "A bigger factor is human behavior. I have friends who are environmentalists, and they have trouble remembering their mug," Conrad MacKerron of As You Sow, a nonprofit group advocating corporate social responsibility, told USA Today. "We're so used to this disposable culture."

He said that although Starbucks has been a leader in cup reform, he is disappointed it has sharply reduced its goal of having 25% of its cups be reusable by 2015 to 5%. Starbucks has a "high-end," eco-minded clientele, he said, but has had limited success: 1.9% of its cups were multiuse in 2011, up from 1.5% in 2009.

Some retailers have cited concerns that reusing cups could cause cross-contamination of germs, according to Miriam Gordon of the California chapter of Clean Water Action, an environmental group. "There's this fear of liability," she told the paper.

Gordon questions whether the $1 cup will be enough to alter behavior, citing studies that show consumers are more apt to change if charged a fee for something such as plastic bags than given a discount for a better alternative. Still, she welcomes the effort as a "step in the right direction."

The coffeehouse chain has more than 18,000 cafes worldwide, including about 11,100 in the United States.