Starbucks, the largest coffeehouse in the world, has an incredible three-decade history of eco-conscious initiatives. In 2018, they tackled the largest sustainability project yet by committing to eliminate plastic straws from their stores globally by 2020. This sweeping removal of straws by Starbucks promotes integrating circularity into their services by reducing the unnecessary components in packaging, a key principle for circular design.
Plastic Ingenuity’s groundbreaking but more obscure innovation, the Nitro Cold Brew lid, was previously designed for Starbucks in 2016 and effectively targeted a niche segment of consumers who drank upscale cold brew without ice. The design offered an inspiring model for a straw-less fix but needed modification for versatility to work for a variety of cold drinks. Plastic Ingenuity faced a daunting challenge of producing an innovative solution to replace straws and doing so quickly for Starbucks to meet their goal of transitioning packaging by 2020.
All About Teamwork
To complete this complex project, the teamwork of the whole company and all of Plastic Ingenuity’s depth and expertise were needed. Starbucks outfitted the Plastic Ingenuity team with extensive requirements for function and our engineers began to collaborate on a design. The first round of brainstorming included 4 designers and 11 different potential designs, as many iterations were needed to integrate all the necessary components. After talking Starbucks through each idea, the engineering team determined the customer desired a hybrid of the existing hot coffee lid with the Nitro Cold Brew lid profile.
One engineer took this information to create another round of examples, from which the final design was selected. In line with Starbucks’ need for timeliness, the group submitted 20 designs in 4 days. After the final prototype was chosen and edited, 5 sets of samples were created in 5 days. The quality control team implemented an extensive testing process including a custom assessment called the tilt test. This ensured all of Starbucks requirements were met and the highest quality product was achieved. This collaborative, efficient, and economic process resulted in an effective and sustainable design.
Plastic Ingenuity developed a thermoformed polypropylene lid to eliminate plastic straws from all Starbucks stores. The rapid turnaround from request to production facilitated Starbucks’ ability to transition by 2020. The lid was constructed in a format that reduces spilling, splashing, and ice migration through the drinking hole with the same effectiveness as a straw.
Results of Sustainability Assessment
designs in 4 days
sets of samples in 5 days
Starbucks straws eliminated per year from over 28,000 stores