The Winner of Starbucks’ Coffee Cup Design Challenge Is… A Chalkboard?

Karma Cup

The concept behind the Betacup Project was simple—issue an open challenge to come up with a solution to the billions of non-recyclable coffee cups that are disposed of every year. Starbucks, perhaps one of the most obvious transgressors, was the most notable sponsor of the contest.

During the contest we were able to view the progress of the Betacup challenge and get a glimpse at some of the more promising solutions, most of which were alternative cups. In the end, after over 400 submissions, the winner of the $10,000 grand prize was… A chalkboard. Huh?

The concept behind Karma Cup is this—A chalkboard at the coffee shop will chart each person who uses a reusable mug. Every tenth person to order a drink with a reusable cup will receive his or her drink free. And people love free.

Karma Cup

Although the winning solution is creative, and might put a small dent in the number of disposable coffee cups used, it is a bit contradictory to the original initiative.

Betacup is on record as not having great things to say about reusable cups, and they made us feel assured that we might be seeing the end of the portable cup as we know it—that is what made the challenge exciting. Think they’d like to rewrite part of the script from this video?

We cannot help but think that Starbucks saw the chalkboard solution as a convenient way to move more product—specifically their own branded travel mugs.

Betacup and Starbucks might have meant well; but they have created some new, unforeseen problems. Non-recyclable coffee cups still exist. Unwashed, unclaimed Starbucks travel mugs will now surely fill office kitchen sinks everywhere. And people who have not been properly caffeinated and feel entitled to free stuff, can be real assholes.


  1. says

    Very cool Brynn… Thank you so much for the insight. I do hope they get around to implementing the Karma Cup, and look forward to see how it plays out.

  2. says

    Hey, thanks for the write-up. Although I’m responding a bit late, I wanted to address the reason for choosing the Karma Cup among all the other submissions.

    First of all, I was a deciding jury member in the design contest and an early proponent of the betacup idea. One of our original goals all along was not to redesign yet-another-reusable mug. There are plenty of those to go around, and while there will always be advances in mug technology, we were deeply interested ways that social or community changes could work to solve this problem.

    So the Karma Cup was a great proposal that would be cheap to implement and met a lot of our goals.

    I also want to note that Starbucks was not a deciding jury member — they were merely a sponsor — but the jurors did not make their decisions with Starbucks (per se) in mind.

    I’m curious to see how the Karma Cup idea will play out!

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