As we enter a new phase in the COVID-19 pandemic, and more businesses open up across the country, lots of us have been keeping an eye on what the modus of Operandi will be when it comes to single-use packaging. 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw companies like coffee giant Starbucks announce it would temporarily not allow customers to bring their own cups for refills out of health and safety concerns.

Screenshot ©Adrianna Calvo/Pexels

But as time has gone by, and a better understanding of how the virus is spread was gained, we’ve seen more clarity on what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to the debate over whether single-use plastic is a more hygienic choice to its reusable alternatives. 

What do health experts say?

Just yesterday, over 100 scientists, physicians, and public health experts from eighteen countries signed a statement assuring businesses and their customers that reusables are safe during COVID-19. The health experts — joined by Greenpeace and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement — released the statement to stress that disposable products are not inherently safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene.

Various zero waste and reuse models that have continued to operate during the pandemic have proven that when a company’s business model is designed with the health of people and the planet, they are more resilient during times like we’re in now. The stories we’ve been told by the plastic industry, that single-use plastics are here to stay because we need them to protect our products and ourselves, are not science-based.

So why has a multinational company with a self-proclaimed green image like Starbucks not gotten creative about moving towards its 2030 100% reusables commitment

It’s a question that’s been on our minds, and those of many of its customers.

Is Starbucks that green?

Starbucks has a massive disposable plastic waste problem. According to the company’s own statements, 6 billion disposable cups are distributed by Starbucks each year around the world. We see the evidence of this deplorable plastic footprint overflowing into our community streets and know that the vast majority of these cups are not recycled or composted like the company would like to have you believe. And lots of Starbucks’ cups, lids and other single-use items like straws and stir sticks end up as pollution in the regions where it operates. The company even holds a position on Greenpeace Canada’s 2019 Top 5 Plastic Polluters list!

But Starbucks has just recently reaffirmed that it still won’t allow its customers to dodge its single-use plastic. And even if in the meantime, the company continues to promote and sell reusable cups, it won’t allow you to refill them. So it’s just selling more products with no benefit to the environment. 

Starbucks’ reliance on its customers to drive its reusables strategy and its lack of a company-wide reusables program with proper hygiene protocols, has meant that it is — and will continue to — rely on disposables despite its green claims. 

What Starbucks should do

If Starbucks replaced its disposable cups with a reusable cup-share program and offered contactless coffee to its customers, the company could prevent millions of throwaway plastics from filling landfills and polluting the environment, each week. 

This is the kind of waste-free solution that could transform our takeout beverage experience! It is doable if Starbucks would just step up and use this moment of change to chart a new course. 

Join me in urging Starbucks to commit to a company-wide reusable cup-share program to do its part to reduce its impact on the plastic waste and pollution crisis. And in the meantime, in the very least, offer contactless coffee refills for its customers that want their coffee with a dash of a plastic-free future. 

Tell Starbucks we want reusables now!