What Happened When I Brought a Reusable Cup to Starbucks for a Week

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By Rose Gerber

In 2008, Starbucks outlined a strategy for reducing waste through increased use of reusable cups. Their initial goal was to serve 25% of their drinks in personal tumblers or “for-here” serveware by 2015. Since then, they have reevaluated and focused more on personal tumblers, as well as creating a new goal of 5% (which they reached in 2015).

I was recently challenged to bring a reusable cup to Starbucks for a week. I began carrying around the most convenient thing I could think of — a mason jar.

The first day, I ordered a 12-ounce shaken green tea lemonade and handed the cashier a 24-ounce mason jar. This guy didn’t really know what to do. He grabbed an insulated drink sleeve (which they threw away before giving me my drink), wrote my name on it, and sent it down the line underneath my jar. The barista who made my drink seemed to feel guilty about handing me a half-empty container. I got a 10¢ discount.

I sometimes received questions and remarks from other customers, like “You can bring a mason jar? I didn’t know that!”

Because I brought a mason jar, I was able to screw the lid on and toss my drink in my bag, which is a major plus for anyone who’s on the go. I promptly forget about it and rediscovered it an hour later after all of the ice had melted.

One of the mornings, my boyfriend refused my offer of a big mason jar — perfectly matching mine — that I wanted him to use on our Starbucks date. I guess some people just aren’t into sustainability.

By the end of the week, I was killing the game. I brought oatmeal in a mason jar to one of my three-hour-long summer classes as a snack. After class was over, I gave the jar a quick wash in the bathroom and headed to Starbucks. There, I ran into a new problem.

I had brought a 12-oz jar, but the smallest smoothie was 16 oz. I told the barista to “just put in what fits.” They ended up filling my jar, then giving me a disposable cup with the remaining 4 ounces. Sustainability fail. Also, the smoothie (orange-mango) made me want to hurl. I’ll stick with making my own.

I decided to go all out on my last day, ordering a venti green tea frappuccino with a chocolate drizzle on top. I knew this flashy, 550-calorie drink would fit perfectly in my 24-ounce mason jar and look GREAT.

When the barista finished making my order and called it out, she put a catty emphasis on the “green tea frappe in a mason jar” part. Chill out Starbucks lady, I’m just tryna be sustainable. Other than her, the employees in general were kind and accommodating.

My main takeaways for this experience were:

1. Starbucks is quite accommodating to reusable glassware, even if yours is totally the wrong size

2. Adding a mason jar to my bag, which is already full of way too much stuff, was not a big deal. Besides, I usually got double usage out of it by packing a snack in it, then getting a drink when my snack was gone.

3. Bringing your own cup to Starbucks is a super easy way of eliminating a little bit of waste. If we all started doing things to eliminate even a little bit of waste, there would be a profound impact. It’s worth it.

All Photos by Rose Gerber

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