Environmental concerns are causing Starbucks (SBUX 2.04%) to begin testing a new reusable cup program in a handful of Seattle stores. For a $1 refundable fee, customers can order drinks in a cup that was used by someone else, but returned and sterilized before being put into circulation again.

Through a partnership with GO Box, a zero-waste company that offers reusable packaging to companies, the coffee chain will allow customers to participate in its new Earth Month promotion. Customers can earn 10 rewards points on their membership loyalty card if they return the reusable cup to a contactless kiosk, where they will be collected for professional cleaning and sterilization. 

They can also have the reusable cups picked up from home by a company called Ridwell. In addition to the rewards points members earn, customers will get their $1 deposit returned.

Hand throwing away a cup at a kiosk

Starbucks is testing a program to eliminate having to toss out its cups. Image source: Starbucks.

Starbucks' "Borrow a Cup" campaign could go nationwide eventually and may even become the only way to get a hot or cold beverage at the store. The coffeehouse already plans to eliminate all disposable cups in South Korea by 2025, though customers can bring their own cups for refill.

A Bloomberg report says Starbucks' global garbage pile accounted for 9% of its carbon footprint in 2018.

While admirable, there's a certain "ick factor" that consumers will need to surmount regardless of the professional sterilization promised, but especially in a post-pandemic world. Still, consumers rarely hesitate to drink out of glassware at a restaurant.

The company's chief sustainability officer, Michael Kobori, said, "Promoting reusability is an important part of Starbucks' goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030."

Socially conscious actions have been a hallmark of company policy for years.