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.

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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?

Via Core77