I cringe every time I see someone with a paper to-go cup. Why? Because a paper — and styrofoam for that matter — to-go cup epitomizes waste and the American ever-rushing way of life (in Paris, asking for a “to-go” cup often gets a confused look as Parisians traditionally sit in cafes and relax when they drink their coffee. I know this because I lived in Paris).
Paper cups are bad enough on their own, but multiply that by the demand for coffee in America and we have a significant environmental problem. Starbucks, for example, generates 4 billion paper cups a year. That breaks down into roughly 12 paper cups for every person in America — a ridiculously high figure. While Starbucks tries to cut back on waste by giving a $.10 discount to every customer who uses a reusable mug, it’s simply not enough: most people forget their reusable mug or will simply ignore any potential savings for sake of convenience.
So why not try the reverse approach, or loss aversion approach, and charge customers a $.10 fee each time they use a paper to-go cup? The fee model has shown to be effective at changing consumer behavior and reducing waste — a common example includes placing a tax on plastic bags. While rewarding green behavior is often the preferred approach, particularly for companies like Starbucks who have an avid fan base, it’s shown that people predominantly won’t reduce their waste unless regulated to do so. In other words, the lowest common denominator is laziness, and we all suffer from it.
Starbucks is well-aware of these common behavioral trends and refuses to instate a $.10 additional charge for each to-go cup for fear of losing their loyally addicted customer. Mainly, the company doesn’t want to come across as if it’s penalizing its customers for drinking multiple cups of coffee every day in a disposable cup stating, “It comes down to the relationship that we’ve built with our customers over the past 40 years.” That’s a pretty wasteful relationship! I’d say it’s time to bring in that reusable mug.
Photo Credit: JackieCheu