As part of its planet-positive commitment, Starbucks has pledged to reduce waste and operate more sustainably, which includes a significant reduction in single-use cups. To deliver on this pledge, Starbucks began developing a returnable cup program, Borrow A Cup. The program allows customers the option to choose a reusable cup when they order, which can be returned via an automated kiosk. As a result, this helps reduce the number of single-use cups that would otherwise be sent to the landfill.
In alignment with our sustainability values, Tactile partnered with Starbucks to help make the reusable cup program possible. Offering both physical and digital design support for the automated kiosk, we collaborated with Starbucks throughout the product development and testing phases of the program. We helped develop key aspects of the kiosk’s industrial design and onscreen UI with a focus on reducing additional work for both Starbucks partners (employees) and their customers.
In early 2020, Starbucks pledged a multi-decade commitment to become a resource-positive company by storing more carbon than it emits, eliminating waste, and replenishing more freshwater than it uses. One part of this ambitious plan was to reduce single-use waste by making it easier for customers to use reusable cups.
Through the Borrow A Cup program, Starbucks customers simply choose a reusable cup with their drink order, and when finished, they return the cup to an automated kiosk. Where it’s collected, the cup is professionally sanitized and ready to be used again. Borrow A Cup breaks the cycle of single-use waste with a clean, reusable alternative.
How the Program Works
Order drink in a reusable cup and pay a $1 deposit.
Customers simply tell the barista they would like their drink in a reusable cup and then pay, adding a $1 refundable deposit to the total cost.
Return the cup and receive a $1 credit.
When finished, customers return the cup to an automated return kiosk via a simple 3-step process that includes scanning the cup, dropping the cup into the kiosk, and scanning their Starbucks rewards app to receive the $1 credit.
Each cup is professionally sanitized.
Starbucks then collects borrowed cups from stores daily and professionally sanitizes them using commercial dishwashing equipment, and puts the cups back into circulation within 48 hours.
Developing the User Experience
Tactile helped Starbucks define the reusable cup user experience from the on-screen instructions to the form factor of the physical kiosk. To find opportunities for optimization, we examined the end-to-end customer journey of ordering a drink in a reusable cup to the point of dropping the cup.
Our primary focus was on making the process easy and intuitive, reducing any potential points of friction for the customer and Starbucks partners (employees) to increase the likelihood of adoption, while also educating new users about the program and their contribution to eliminating single-use waste.
The Return Kiosk
In partnership with Starbucks R&D, we consulted on the industrial design of the kiosk. Optimizing the layout and organization of physical components, making an efficient contactless return experience. Additional work on the external form was also done to create several large flat panels that accept graphic wraps that can be changed with seasonal marketing campaigns.
A Contactless Experience
A key feature of the automated return kiosk is the contactless screen experience, guiding customers through the cup return process. This includes a simple 3-step user flow with prompts to 1) Scan a cup, 2) Drop a Cup (into the kiosk), and 3) Scan the App. By scanning their Starbucks rewards app, customers can instantly collect their $1 deposit credit. Or, they have the option to print a voucher that can be claimed by a cashier.
Kiosks were placed in prominent locations within each cafe. With this in mind, we designed the kiosk surfaces to accommodate a variety of modular graphic applications. Full-wrap graphics features everything from program branding to essential components, such as the cup scanner and drop location, allowing each unit to act as its own functional billboard to increase awareness and improve usability.
To reduce the dependency of Starbucks partners (employees) to educate customers about the program, we created an animated how-to video that plays onscreen until a cup is scanned.
The stylized video walks customers through the end-to-end process, from drink purchase to deposit refund, helping build awareness for both the program and providing instruction about the return process.
The Borrow A Cup program is leading the charge in Starbucks’ effort to reduce global waste by eliminating our dependency on single-use cups. And the world is beginning to take notice. The effort continues to build momentum. Starting as a global reusable cup pilot program in Seattle, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, and London, it continues to expand around the globe. Starbucks Korea introduced a version of the reusable cup program as part of its commitment to eliminate single-use cups from all Korean stores nationwide by 2025.
“Our returnable cup program allows customers to opt for a reusable cup
in the same way they would a single-use cup, breaking down barriers
preventing greater reusable uptake and putting convenience front
and centre to enable customers to easily transition away from
single-use and make reusability the only option, long-term.”
— Duncan Moir, President, Starbucks EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa)