Gallery: Brilliant Karma Cup System Greens Your Coffee Routine


With 58 billion paper coffee cups thrown out each year in the US, it’s clear that we need to find a different system that keeps those cups out of the landfill. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll be giving up our coffee habit anytime soon, so six months ago the Betacup Open Design Challenge was issued to design a better coffee cup. The winner was recently announced on Core77, and it’s such a simple idea that we’re wondering why it isn’t a universal system already. The Karma Cup, is a low-tech, low-cost, no-brainer system that encourages and incentivizes using a reusable cup. Best of all, it’s such a simple solution that it could be implemented tomorrow.

Backed by Starbucks and a $20,000 incentive, the Betacup Open Design Challenge encouraged designers from around the world to send in their ideas to eliminate the wastage of paper coffee cups. Designed by Mira Lyn, Gillian Langor, Nick Partridge, Zarla Ludin, Ruth Prentice, the Karma Cup concept is so simple that Starbucks could set it up and distribute it to its coffee shops in no time at all.

It works on the system of Karma — what you do gives back. If you do good, you receive good and so on, and integrating the Karma system into coffee shops involves a simple chalkboard, which is placed by the register. For ever 10th customer who comes in with a reusable coffee cup, they get an item for free. The customers who don’t use a resuable mug don’t get to participate and don’t get a chance to win or have a greener coffee experience.

Treehugger Founder Graham Hill was one of the jurors along with Core77 Editor-in-Chief Allan Chochinov, who said said this about the Karma Cup idea:

Karma Cup is extremely easy to implement, has minimal costs and, most importantly, could get everyone in line at the coffee shop to think about why they are or aren’t using a portable mug. I believe that this is a subtle but powerful difference from other incentive schemes. I really like the “we’re all in this together” feel. By making the incentive a group thing, it makes it more community minded. This system could be taken up by any coffee shop, would help portable coffee cup owners to use theirs more often and would help non-converts to finally buy and use a portable coffee cup. Combined with some of the other great ideas for more compelling portable coffee cups, the tide could be turned and set the stage for some legislation in order to get the massive change we need.

The beauty of the system is that nothing new needs to be developed, built, designed or manufactured. We all have reusable coffee mugs already, so this system just encourages us to play the game and get free stuff. Also, any coffee shop in the world could utilize this system as there is no proprietary design involved – it’s just a system of rewards, and we all reap the benefits with the reduction of coffee cups sent to the landfill. The Karma Cup design team will win $10,000 for their clever, no-brainer solution, which leaves us thinking “Duh!”, why aren’t we already doing this?

+ Betacup

Via Core77


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  1. maz June 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I had a similar experience to heyrenee where a Barista at Starbucks recently refused to use my refillable mug saying they don’t allow reusable mugs. I was surprised as another Starbucks nearby did accept my mug. Seems that Starbucks needs to work on that.

  2. daniel shand June 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Nice Concept

  3. joasto June 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

    Ever heard about these great new inventions called “pottery” and “porcelain”? Keep a cup in your office. Lasts a lifetime, works both for water, tea and coffee. Average number of disposable cups saved per person: five per day, 150 per month, 1800 per year and 72000 over a forty year career.

  4. heyrenee June 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    How odd that this backed by Starbucks.
    I had a recent experience at one of their shops where a barista said they could not fill reusable cups that were not purchased there because they couldn’t guarantee they’d been cleaned properly. So I would need to buy a new cup every visit in order for them to fill it. Might as well use disposable.

    Pretty sure that’s just a stupid ploy to sell their product. I think the baristas make a commission off those sales as well.

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