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Winner of Starbucks' Coffee Cup Challenge Isn't a Coffee Cup

Could a simple chalkboard eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups? The creators of Karma Cup think so.

Winner of Starbucks' Coffee Cup Challenge Isn't a Coffee Cup

Starbucks Coffee Cup Challenge Karma Cup

If you could earn free lattes by helping save the environment, why wouldn't you? That’s the philosophy behind Karma Cup, the winner of the Betacup Challenge announced today.

Betacup Challenge is an open design competition partly sponsored by Starbucks with a mission to reduce the waste from to-go paper coffee cups. Having beat out over 430 entries, Karma Cup will receive $10,000.

The Karma plan: A chalkboard at the coffee shop will chart each person who uses a reusable mug. The tenth person to order a drink with a reusable cup will receive his or her drink free. By turning a freebie program into a communal challenge, Karma Cup would create incentives for everyone to bring reusable mugs. (After all, the more people participate, the more free stuff is given away and the more likely you are to get something free.) That, in turn, would eliminate rather than simply redesign the nefarious disposable cup.

"Our paper cups really represent our icon and unfortunately they also represent one of our greatest environmental liabilities in our customers’ eyes," Jim Hanna, Starbucks’s director of environmental impact, said at the announcement. "By 2015, we want all cups to recyclable, compostable, or reusable."

Every year, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away, 20 million trees are cut down to manufacture these cups and 12 billion gallons of water are used in the manufacturing process. We could also power 53,000 homes with the energy we consume with paper cups.

Karma Cup was among three other honorees that received honorably mentions. The three runners-up were Band of HonorThe Betacup & The Betacup Campaign and the Champion Cup.

The Band of Honor plays into customers need to be recognized for their environmental deeds by placing a band, similar to a Livestrong bracelet, around the top of the cup. The Beta Cup & The Beta Cup Challenge proposes a biodegradable reusable cup made out of corn husks with interactive sustainability campaign behind the product. The Champion Cup allows users to chart their use online and see the good deeds accomplished by each use of a reusable cup.

The competition took place on the jovoto community Web site, and community members also selected five winners, each of which received $2,000 of the overall $20,000 put forward by Starbucks. Five-thousand ratings were made on the Web site, and members made 13,000 comments on the entries.

Starbucks partnered with, Core 77, Denuo, and Good Day Monsters to create the Betacup Challenge, and the competition opened for submission on April 1. Popular online T-shirt designer Threadless also launched the Threadless Loves Coffee challenge alongside the project.

Although there are no firm plans to implement Karma Cup at coffee shops yet, it was selected primarily on its viability and ease of implementation. It’s a low-risk program that doesn’t require creating any new products, and Starbucks also didn’t want to change the coffee-drinking experience.

(We assume this is why the Cookie Cup didn’t make the grade. Who wouldn’t want to eat their cup after enjoying a nice cup of joe?)