Starbucks and $1 Reusable Mug: Trying to Fit a Shoe on the Wrong Foot

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Starbucks introduces the $1 reusable plastic mug that bears the Starbucks logo and is white to match its disposable cups. The coffee chain will offer a dime discount for refills with the reusable mug, hoping this will encourage coffee lovers to bring them in.

But will it drive change?

This new offering comes in the wake of Starbucks sharply reducing its goal of having 25% of its cups be reusable by 2015 to 5%. According to USA Today,

The $1 tumbler is the latest effort to address criticism that food and beverage retailers need to reduce the amount of disposable cups and containers that ends up in landfills or litters streets and waterways. Thousands of people have signed petitions on, a website promoting social change, urging companies to promote reusable options and abandon polystyrene foam packaging, which is rarely recycled.

All this is supposed to be good news, but why am I not thrilled.

Human Behavior and Habits Are Hard to Change

Starbucks, for long has offered the 10 cents discount on anyone bringing in a reusable mug, with no real impact. Why? It is tough to change habits. We are part of the fast, coffee-to-go culture. We do not have the time or patience to wait for our reusable mug to be cleaned with a hot water wash that Starbucks plans to offer all customers who do bring in a reusable mug. Moreover the 10 cent discount is not incentive enough to go reusable. Now imagine what would happen if they imposed a 20 cent surcharge on everybody who did not bring a cup. Completely different scenario.

What happens at Starbucks drive throughs? You order your coffee at the ordering station, but your coffee doesn’t get poured till you arrive at the pickup window. This is when you hand in your reusable mug, wait for it to get washed and ready for the coffee. I see longer wait times and before you know it we have customers who want that 3 extra minutes at the cost being environmentally friendly. How many uptight-suited executives do you think you will see, toting a white reusable cup?

Selling Resusable Cups Does Not Mean It Will Get Bought and Used

I see ardent coffee fans adopting this as part of their daily routine, but they would have already adopted the reusable mug option that Starbucks has offered for a while now. Starbucks is presenting a half baked effort to lure other customers to adopt the same, in an obvious attempt to reach corporate responsibility goals, but it is still a half baked measure.

But what we don’t need is another half thought that produces more plastic cups that ultimately makes it to a landfill. What we do need is a slower lifestyle. We need a way out of the disposable mindset and the need for speed. We need the time to make a pot of coffee at home in the morning or walk to a coffee shop and not just zoom through a drive-thru for our morning cuppa. We need a lifestyle change that has a reusable mug engrained in it.

How can Starbucks help slow our lifestyle? How can they help us change our attitudes and mindset so we can shun disposable? Without a core change in behavior, offering reusable mugs for a cost is like trying to fit a shoe on the wrong foot.




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