Companies like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Brands, and McDonald’s stopped allowing refills for personal cups in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, but reusable container advocates say that doesn’t mean the packaging transition is over. Just that the focus has changed.
About a month ago, cafes in the Bay Area were preparing to test NextGen Cup Challenge reusable cup systems. Then California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order in response to covid-19, prompting restaurants and chains to switch to take-out and delivery only.
Starbucks stopped allowing customers to use personal cups and tumblers for the interim. Other chains, including Dunkin’ Brands and Tim Horton’s, followed suit. Meanwhile, as colleges, universities, and offices switched to online learning and telecommuting, packaging-free beverage filling stations went unused.
Health and safety have come to the forefront during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean all reusable cup initiatives have ground to a halt.
Bridget Croke, managing director for Closed Loop Partners, told Waste Dive’s Karine Vann that work continues on the NextGen Cup Consortium. “As with all packaging and delivery systems for food and consumer goods, reusable models must meet and exceed the health and safety standards that we know and trust today,” she said.
Refill programs put on hold by the pandemic could return after the partners review their hygiene systems, the outlet reported.
“Reusable or secondhand items are unlikely to spread the novel coronavirus, as long as they’re washed or disinfected in between uses,” Wired explained recently. “But new items come with an aura of cleanliness, while reusable and secondhand goods often fight the perception of being unsanitary.”
Although bring-your-own container programs are likely to be on pause for a long time yet, Waste Dive pointed out that the current situation opens up opportunities for third-party operated, health code-certified, circular economy reuse concepts. Once the dust settles, reusable to-go cup systems that prioritize safety and sterilization could gain the most traction.