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Starbucks launches reusable cup trial at Gatwick Airport

In a first-of-its kind trial, Starbucks is giving airport travelers the option of selecting a reusable cup, which they can return to a Cup Check-In site before boarding their plane.

• Before customers board their flight, they can return their cup to one of five Cup Check-In points in the terminal.
• Before customers board their flight, they can return their cup to one of five Cup Check-In points in the terminal.

On June 10, Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub launched the first airport reusable cup trial in partnership with England’s Gatwick Airport. The trial offers drop-off points for Starbucks reusable cups throughout the international airport’s South Terminal to help cut paper cup waste and address “throw-away culture, ” says Starbucks.

How it works:

  • Starbucks customers are offered the option of having their drink in a reusable cup when they get to the register
  • Customers keep the cup for the time they are in the airport
  • Before customers board their flight, they can return their cup to one of five Cup Check-In points located throughout the terminal, including at the Starbucks store
  • Gatwick’s waste management team collects the cups, which are washed and sterilized in line with the airport’s safety standards and are returned to Starbucks ready for customer use
  • Any customer wishing to choose a disposable paper cup is still able to do so and will incur the 5-pence (6 cents) paper-cup charge that is live in all Starbucks stores

Explains Starbucks, over 5.3 million of the 7 million paper cups used at Gatwick each year are already being recycled, but as recycling requires empty cups to be placed in the dry recycling bins, Starbucks and Hubbub have identified the potential to increase reusable cup options as well as limit the number of cups used in travel hubs where on-the-go packaging is prevalent.

The aim of the trial is to put 2,000 reusable Starbucks cups in circulation throughout Gatwick’s South Terminal, which could drastically reduce the number of paper cups being used each day. For example, if only 250 customers opted for reusable each day, it could results in more than 7,000 paper cups saved in one month.

Says Jaz Rabadia MBE, UK Senior Manager of Energy and Sustainability at Starbucks, “The purpose of working with Hubbub and Gatwick is to help create a new culture of reuse on-the-go by giving customers the option of a reusable cup instead of paper for free. We are optimistic that the Cup Check-In points around the airport will provide enough places for customers to return their cups on the way to their gate, but also recognize this might not for everyone. Our goal is to save 7,000 disposable cups over the course of the month to find out the best ways to drive reuse where it is typically harder to do so—such as airports.”

According to Gatwick Airport, the trial fits well with its own circular economy ethos, which involves using as many recovered resources as possible from within the airport estate. “By redesigning and investing in new waste collection and sorting facilities, and also in training to raise awareness about its journey toward zero waste, we have so far managed to hit a waste recycling and reuse rate of 70 percent this year. This includes all empty coffee cups and plastics, and we also send zero waste to landfill,” says Rachel Thompson, Sustainability Lead, Gatwick Airport.

She adds, “There is strong public support for measures to reduce waste, and we are delighted to support one of our retailers with an innovation that can help travelers do that. We are looking forward to seeing how the trial goes and what we can learn to improve the solution.”

The trial is part of Starbucks and Hubbub’s ongoing partnership and commitment to reducing paper cup waste. After introducing a 5-pence charge on paper cups in 2018 to encourage reuse, Starbucks has donated all proceeds to Hubbub to carry out environmental projects and research that increase sustainable consumer behavior, such as this Gatwick trial


Says Hubbub CEO and co-founder Trewin Restorick, “We know that people care about waste, but it’s often hard to ‘do the right thing’ when traveling. We want to find out whether people will get on board with reusing cups if we make it easy and convenient. The airport is the ideal environment to trial a reusable cup scheme, as it is a closed-loop environment and has the potential to reduce large volumes of paper cup waste. What we learn here will provide valuable insight into how to deploy a reusable trial in not only other airports, but in many other environments.”

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