The Beta Cup


In North America we consume 58 billion paper cups every year. This represents 60% of the worlds total cup wastage. Shockingly these cups are not being recycled and most end up in landfill. The problem is that as consumers we love convenience, and paper cups have become a symbol of how out of control our throw away culture has become. Adding to the problem is the fact that adoption of current, reusable alternatives is less than 2%, due in part to the fact that these alternatives are not as convenient as the paper cup. This means we have a serious problem on our hands.

That’s where the betacup comes in. Our goal is to eliminate paper cup consumption and create a more convenient alternative through a global collaborative design contest. The aim will be to invite designers and design teams all around the world to come together around this shared problem.

I believe design can solve a lot of problems, but sometimes the problem isn’t poor design, it’s people. While I strongly agree with the motivation behind this project, I don’t believe poorly designed travel mugs are the reason people don’t use them. “I am not a Paper Cup” (pictured below), for example, looks just like the cups we leave a cafe with, but most people won’t be bothered carrying an empty one with them to the store. It’s not because the cup is bulky or hard to clean, it’s because people are lazy and convenience is greater than reducing their impact on the environment. However, the Beta Cup Prize hopes to change this.


There is already an unlimited supply of manufactured ceramic and plastic mugs floating around thrift stores and Wal-Marts. To think about designing and producing even more stuff is not only irresponsible, but it’s not the solution. You have to change peoples behaviors—and this time—I don’t think a fancy new cup is the answer. Most Starbucks have stopped using ceramic mugs, so if I’m not getting my coffee to go, I’m stuck with a paper cup unless I’ve brought my own. While this makes the problem worse, it’s also inspired my solution.

Here’s my idea for Beta Cup. Get cafe’s to stop providing cups altogether. If you want your coffee, you provide the vessel. It doesn’t matter what shape, color, size, or material. You may loose some customers in the beginning, but at some point it will click, habits will form, people will change and if they really love their coffee they will bring their own cup. Give me $20k and I will use it to develop an awareness campaign and a countdown clock, to give customers forewarning. On zero day, all cups vanish from stores, peoples mindsets are reset, and new behaviors begin to take shape.

Find out more at or help fund the prize on Kickstarter.

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  • Reply Toby 12/22/2009 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for your post regarding the betacup. I think you make some really great points in your article and in many ways we agree that another cup, regardless of how well designed, or how much more convenient it might be, might not be the solution.

    This is why we are looking to tackle three core problems:

    1. The product itself
    2. The system within which coffee is served
    3. Consumer behavior and motivations

    We hope that ideas generated as part of our innovation challenge can address any or all of the above.

    Thanks again for your interest and for sharing your views. We would love to hear more of your ideas and continue discussing ways to address this growing problem.

  • Reply bwj 12/23/2009 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for the comment Toby, I admire the approach and really hope you can procure the funding needed. I’ll continue to follow the progress and would love to be a part of the dialogue in the future.

  • Reply Mike Crimmins 12/27/2009 at 7:29 am

    I love the cup, but I also think that people’s mindset need to change if we’re going to see a real change.

    I like the ideas of coffee shops offering five or ten cent discounts to people that bring in their own mugs, but to tell the truth, that’s not enough to get me to bring in my own mug. However, coffee shops can’t give a bigger discount without cutting into their profit margin.

    I don’t know what the solution is…

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