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betacup - $10,000 prize for innovative ideas for coffee cup waste reduction Answered

58 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away, unrecycled, each year. The betacup challenge is an effort to reduce this waste.

betacup are inviting people to submit ideas but also to comment and rate others’ ideas, and engage in discussions with other betacup community members and contest jurors.

Thought I'd post this as there are a lot of smart thinking, clever, innovative people here at instructables. Hopefully one of us (or several?) can come up with something positive.

Betacup from the betacup on Vimeo.

You should consider:
Waste Reduction – how does the Idea reduce the number of non-recycled coffee cups thrown away each year?
Resources Required – what resources will it take to implement the Idea? (money, energy, water, materials, time, etc)
New or Existing Capabilities – does the Idea use existing technologies or approaches? If not, what must be created or invented to implement the Idea?
The Whole experience – Don’t forget the importance of the “whole experience”. Alternatives to paper cups are available today but they are not being widely used. How effective is the Idea likely to be in achieving its goal?

A different contest format (hint: we’re encouraging collaboration)
The betacup differs from most contest formats, because it is open. We are using jovoto, so when you submit an idea, your ideas are open to the public for comment and ratings.

betacup via Treehugger


a recyclable metal coffee cup that is insulated on the inside so you cant burn your hand and also its reusable because its made of metal

Ummm... Don't drink coffee?

reusable mulit sized easy lid, people want sippy cups and you always loose your lids. Lids with the coffee shop logo on them even paper lids that can only be used once in multi sizes would cut down on the waste.

not for nothing, but I use a PLA cup at work everyday which is then composted along with all the rest of my food containers, silverware, etc...  hasn't this problem been solved?  adoption takes time people...

The betacup contest is now open!  Lots of great ideas in here, submit them to the community for a chance at the prize money - see http://www.thebetacup.com for signup details.  Even if you don't have an idea, please help rate and discuss concepts submitted by others!

 I'm a member of the betacup team - it's great to see so many people thinking about this problem!

First, @Jayefuu - Thanks for posting this up!

@paganwonder - Convenience is almost certainly a driving factor.  Have you asked any of your coworkers about it?  Some people have probably made a conscious choice to use disposables: in our discussions with people, some have said they really don't like washing them, some felt that disposables were more 'clean', etc.  Others have never really considered why they aren't using reusable mugs, they just fell into the habit.

@comodore, @shiftlock and others suggesting biodegradable products - They're certainly better than straight plastic, but the landfill design in many communities doesn't allow products to degrade.  The trash is packed too tightly to allow oxygen and micro-organisms in to break down the garbage.  See here.  

@mikeasaurus - the blended materials, particularly wax liners or sprayed-on wax insulation, make recycling extremely difficult.  Most US communities don't have the recycling infrastructure necessary to process much beyond the basics.

@robbtoberfest - have you seen the dishmaker?

@kryptonite, @Kiteman, and @Masaries7 - these are fantastic ideas.  I think the solution is going to be a combination of incentive, social pressure, and product design.  Some clever concepts here - please don't forget to register and submit them when the contest opens on April 1!

1/3 of my job consists of picking up litter, and changing trash bags, so I see a lot of garbage, and what people are throwing away. The University where I work has a recycling program across the campus. It is gradually spreading. But there are two main problems, 90%of the trash in non-recycling cans is recyclable, and there is too much focus on recycling and not enough on reducing. The only way to get away from disposable anything (or everything)is to not dispose of things. There must be less stuff made in the first place, and an attitude of constant reduction of manufacturing as much as possible. It will be hard to do, but it is the only real solution. All other solutions are just another excuse to make things.

Paper coffee cups are a problem, I admit, but they can be just thrown on the ground, and they will biodegrade within a few weeks, especially if buried directly in the ground (not inside a plastic bag). Sadly, though the lids will never biodgrade. If these were made of paper or cardboard too, then at least that would be a start. Providing fewer cups is a good option, but more emphasis needs to be placed on providing alternatives. Someone should definitely conduct a study to see how many cups are used on average per day in your average store. I go to convenience stores quite a bit, and there are usually more cups there than I need. Part of the problem we face is a society that thinks more equals better. We could probably provide half as many cups in the first place, and still sell the same amount of coffee, but it wouldn't look the same. If stores stocked more reusable cups for sale, then maybe people would buy them, or bring their own. Another sickening problem, worse than coffeee cups is plastic stirrers...they are an item that gets produced, then packaged,  and shipped to stores, only to be used for less than a second, before being discarded. What a waste. I never use them. It is an insult to our planet. Convenience will bury us in trash. The best bet is to make your coffee at home. You can usually have about 20 oz of coffee for about 10c per cup. That easily makes up for a few extra minutes a day to make a cup in the morning, then wash it out at the end of the day!

The collapsable cup idea has some good and bad points.
When you said collapsable cup the first thing I thought of was the little telescoping tumbler made of plastic rings (old ones were aluminum) found at drug, camping and novelty stores, that were usable but always on the verge of collapse and a wet surprise.
Then I thought of this: Why not make them of memory metal like NiTiNOL?
When you are done flatten it and put it in your pocket. When you need a cup run hot water (or steam) over it and it turns back into a cup.
The main problem I see is price!!!!

I thought more about the problem today. How about a cup like a bellows bottle (constant diameter, variable length, made by blow molding) supported by a NiTiNOL frame.

Silicone! I've seen camping funnels made from silicone that fold up.


Perhaps a series of ideas would work

1. First off, imprint a hand print on the cup so that consumers become more conscious that the cup is theirs when they pick it up.  Perhaps a green hand to be seen as earth conscious. Also pictures of rabbits and furry animals and a line that says "Recycle to save on coffee"

2.Have every coffee store offer to take a picture posted on the wall of those who save 100 cups in a year. Also have contests in which the winner bringing the most cups receives a free metal cup or collasping cup. 
Make these offers seperate as some will want to do both.

3. Give $1.00 coffee rebates by utilizing a punch-out card to mark when a customer has recycled 5 cups. Plus make the card out of recycled cups!!
Or better yet offer a scanable key chain to record how many cups are recycled and why not record how many coffee are purchased as well too. 

 4. Offer tax breaks to shops based on the percentage of recycled cups sold.

Since it will be cheaper to use recycled cups the shops will save and realistically will be able to reduce price by a few cents or more.

Ok, so now how do we actually reuse the cups?

1.  Reuse as coffee cups (already stated)

2.  Allocate them to paper plate companies. (Give them tax breaks too.)

3. Perhaps transferable into note-book paper or covers of journals.

4. Build large and ridiculously creative art structures of paper cups placed within shops and on college campuses increasing word of mouth. 

Call it the cup movement...no ok call it "Earth yuppies" 
Have Al Gore wear a suit of paper cups and attempt to save humpback whales on live television. No seriously I'll watch.  It's not necessary to try save every single cup with this but I'm certain many will actually be recycled.  Everyone loves to have a photo taken.






The best option is for a coffee shop that supplies *no* cups at all.

All they have to do is sell particular volumes of coffee, and dispense it into receptacles provided by the customer.

As a compromise, they could sell a range of heavy plastic cups (and/or travel mugs) in the same range of sizes.

The hygienic state and/or food-worthiness of the receptacle would be the responsibility of the customer.

Absolutely no need for new technologies or special systems of cleaning or re-use.

The coffee would even be cheaper, since there would be no need to pay for the cup, for trash containers, for cup-washing machines (and the resources to run them).

50c off every coffee some one buys with a standard sized traveling mug bought previously from the store for $5.

That'd pay off in a week! Good idea. Many people have one on the way to work and one at lunch time.


Convenience stores all over the US already do this, and they don't come anywhere near competing with Starbucks.

I think part of what makes Starbucks successful is the combination of convenience (both in terms of the drinking container and the preparation of the coffee) and the price.

(Price?? It's twice the price of any other coffee on the UK high street, and not twice the quality.)

nothings ever a direct equivalent, buying power especially. 

The cost of a refillable mug plus the cost of the coffee to fill it though would be on par with a single serving from starbucks though yes? 

Coffee mugs sold at convenience stores in the US go for around $2-$6 bucks, depending on size and quality. The coffee to fill them goes for $1.00-$3.00.

If you go for the biggest cup of joe at the most expensive convenience store you're looking around 10.00.

Starbucks is comparably priced to this, and, again, people are lazy.

this assumes that you throw away your reusable container.

I know at places I go to you get 10 cents off a cup of coffee if you bring your own mug.  I have a $20 coffee mug (high roller I know)
$20.00/$0.10 = 200 uses
or 40 work weeks at one cup a day (I drink about two)

and you have it paid off in a semester.

The last three words I agree with.

The rest makes you sound like you work for Starbucks...

no... it's just my inner cynic speaking.
Even with the ecological issues growing in importance people aren't going to using something like a reusable cup until there's something like a waste tax implemented, and, in the US at least, that's a ways off.

The waste tax is probably the way to go.  There needs to be a paradigm shift.  We need to stop disposing and get to reusing.  Unfortunately, some people need financial incentives to do that. 

Nice spot Jayefuu, awesome looking contest!

maybe a coffee cup limb implant to satisfy this event and the upcoming one to help people

Should it come out of my chest, back for side? Wait, stupid me, I should cut off my left arm and have that replaced with a coffee cup limb!

Teflon coated reusable cups for easier washing? or cups made out of used coffee grounds?

I like the coffee grounds idea! It'd be a statement even if it's not cheaper or more environmentally friendly than paper cups.

 I'd say print the cups with a 3d printer; grind up the cups, heat treat and melt the grindings, and print them again :)

I can't think of a physical wonder-product than can replace the disposable coffee cup. Hard to compete with a massed produced product that's simple, cheap, and disposable. We've made it too easy to keep this 'disposable mindset', moving away from the conveiniece of paper coffee cups isn't going to be easy.

Part of the concern is that there is no recycling for disposable coffee cups, and no incentive. Why not put a deposit on returning the cups, just like soda bottles. There may be a hygienic factor to recycling cups, I'm not sure. I know there's restrictions to what condition you can return soda bottles in (labels and caps still on, not used for chemicals, etc.) maybe there's a way to impose standards on returning cups.

Another thought is to stop using blended/combined materials for exotic cups. I have seen paper cups with a spraying on a foamed outer layer for insulation. While clever, would make recycling more difficult. Also, by researching alternatives to synthetics for the coating we can probably make recycling even easier.

what about plastic cups?? so they can be recycled?

tino d

8 years ago

use Soy Beans. soy beans are being used to make hard plastics or even corn. and have it if you bring in your cup you get 50% off than trust me millions will bring in there cup

Good thing that I don't drink coffee

That's not the way! "It's not my fault so I won't solve it". I don't drink coffee either but I can still see it's a problem worth thinking about :D No?

Haha I know what you mean :P

Anyway, a very good question, perhaps use cups that can decompose more easily? Make them look brown, so it blends more into the environment? No... I don't think the companies will like it, it would look more fugly...

A lot of energy needs to go in recycling them + the sterilization....it doesn't really help the environment much....
If you ask me, it's better to find a material that desintigrates fast leaving a minimal scar on the environment...

So does any one know how long it takes a coffee cup do desintigrate?
I know that for cardboard it's something around 4 months,considering it's on the open exposed to the weather, at least that's what I read...

I don't drink coffee, I guess I can't enter : /.. No source of cups..

Does your place of work have break room ?
If it does, does your employer  supply the coffee?
If they do, you can probably participate.

I live in the middle of Mormon Utah. Coffee is something of a taboo, but I still have access to break room and the company provides coffee for those who drink it.

I'm in high school, so no break room, or employer, or company supplying coffee.. So no participation for me : /..


8 years ago

ehhh... straight reuse has issues.

Part of the reason people use disposable coffee cups is both for the convenience (no one has to wash the cups and the cups are always next to the coffee), but also for the hygenic control. A disposable cup guarentees that there's always a clean cup to get your coffee in, and there's not going to be a left over dirty cup to have to worry about as an employer.

So I think that kinda rules out straight reuse of a disposable coffee cup for the purpose of drinking coffee.

That said... Something that might work is shredding the coffee cup and using it as a kitty litter. The coffee smell would be quite strong so it'd probably help hide a fair amount of the unpleasantness that comes out of an animal.
Course waxed cups might not degrade very well, and they definitely wouldn't be very absorbant, so maybe there's only a limited utility there.

Fluff them, rather than shred them, and lots of absorbent fibres will be exposed.

How about some sort of a biodegradable liner for re-usable cups than can be safely thrown away or even flushed?  Are there any materials that will hod up to an average coffee drinking, then dissolve?  What about a potato-plastic liner made from this, lining a collapsible cup like this

What is the environmental cost of washing cups? Energy, water detergent etc.


I've noticed that the majority of disposable cups I see are in the hands of my co-workers due to coffee stop on the way to work.  I love my co-workers but I firmly believe they use disposable rather than re-usable for convenience- no need to wash up.   All of this to say-  we are burying ourselves in waste because we want the ease of disposable rather than the work of re-usable.

I myself am tired of travel mugs-  I need a travel mug that feels like a proper cup. I hate sipping thru a plastic lid.

So anyone got any ideas?

The main problems I see are people not wanting to carry stuff around once they've finished their coffee and the space those things take up. I think something with a slick inside coating so no coffee residue remains once finished and something that's collapsible but sturdy when not collapsed. Then people can pour out the dregs and collapse their cup for stowing in a pocket or bag.

What do people think?