McDonald's & Starbucks Piloting Reusable Cup Program in California

by Bill McCool on 02/19/2020 | 2 Minute Read

It’s been almost two years since McDonald’s and Starbucks announced the NextGen Cup Challenge, a design competition that sought a recyclable solution to single-use paper cups. While we know that recycling a paper cup with a plastic liner CAN be done (just apparently not on a massive scale), it seems the two QSR behemoths have stumbled upon a stopgap in the form of reusable cups.

This week, McDonald’s and Starbucks will implement a pilot program in a handful of independent coffee shops in San Francisco and Palo Alto that utilizes “smart” reusable cups. The cups themselves are made of plastic, but they come with RFID chips and QR codes so they can be tracked. While they’re still working out the kinks for this complex endeavor, cup drop-off locations will be strategically placed around town and inside civic buildings, and they’ll be gathering data to make this as seamless a transition as possible.

Editorial photograph
CupClub drop-off bin.

Both pilot programs come from two finalists in the cup challenge—CupClub and Muuse. Muuse will get trialed in San Francisco, and their cups will come with QR codes that customers can scan when they pick up or drop off. CupClub will start in Palo Alto, and the city will utilize the company’s yellow dropoff bins so the cups can be collected, cleaned, and redistributed to coffee shops.

Editorial photograph
Muuse reusable cups.

The pilot will not be without its challenges, as baristas will have to acclimate themselves to preparing drinks in reusable vessels. Additionally, whatever programs that get implemented—if at all— will need to be cost-effective, convenient, eco-friendly, and not disrupt the overall flow of coffee. 

"We know finding a more sustainable cup solution will continue to require partnership and innovative thinking," said Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks, in a press release. "The ongoing work from the NextGen Cup Consortium provides valuable insights and learnings for all the members, us included, as we continue to explore a variety of ways to better manage our waste and reduce our environmental footprint."

Editorial photograph
CupClub reusable coffee cup.

The cup challenge is a part of the NextGen Consortium, a program dedicated to finding alternatives to single-use packaging waste. In March, they will try new programs using cups made from recyclable and compostable materials in Oakland.

So, while you’re waiting for a similar program to launch at your local coffee shop, keep bringing in that reusable cup and say no to the bad stuff.

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