Starbucks' Cup Competition Rewards Innovations for Reuse

NEW YORK, NY — The winner of a competition sponsored by Starbucks to gather ideas for reducing non-recyclable paper cup use isn't a cup at all, but a concept for encouraging customers to bring their own cups for possible free drinks.

The three honorable mentions are also ideas that encourage customer reuse, but one honorable mention also includes a rice-based reusable cup, and the five "community picks" are a mix of biodegradable, recyclable and collapsible cups.

"We're very interested in looking at the winning ideas and many of the other submitted ideas as we develop new solutions to reduce cup waste," said Elise Chisholm, Starbucks spokesperson. "We haven't yet had a chance to determine specific action plans. Increasing adoption of reusable cups - including travel tumblers and our own ceramic serveware - is definitely an important part of the equation for us."

The Betacup competition offered a total of $20,000 for ideas that could eliminate paper cup consumption. Starbucks sponsored it as part of its efforts to only offer reusable or recyclable cups by 2015.

The winning idea was the Karma Cup, a simple concept for putting a chalkboard by the register at a coffee shop, having customers that use reusable cups make a mark on the board, and then giving a free coffee to every 10th customer that uses a reusable.

The three honorable mentions are the Band of Honor, a rubber band with a barcode on it that a customer can put on any reusable cup and have scanned every time they use it, getting larger discounts the more they reuse it; the Champion Cup, a platform in which customers tag their mugs, register them online, get rewards for reusing them and track how many cups they've saved; and a reusable and biodegradable cup made form rice husks that has a sleeve with an RFID tag that can be scanned for tracking cup use and receiving discounts.

The winner of the competition, which was run through Jovoto.com, was chosen by a judging panel and receives $10,000, while the top five ideas chosen as "community picks" each receive $2,000. Starbucks provided the $20,000 prize money.

While many of the awarded ideas focus on reusable cups, unless Starbucks stops offering drinks in disposable cups, it will need other recyclable or compostable solutions to reach its goal for 2015.

"We're currently working with a wide range of stakeholders to improve recycling infrastructures in the communities where our stores are located," Chisholm said. "Ultimately, we want our paper and plastic cups to be recyclable in form and in practice - in our stores, in public spaces, and at our customers' homes."

Recycling has been sticking point in Starbucks' environmental efforts. In its 2009 Global Responsibility Report, it stamped "Needs Improvement" on its three recycling goals of developing a recyclable cup by 2012, setting up front-of-store recycling in company-owned stores by 2015 and serving a quarter of beverages in reusable cups by 2015. 

In April, Starbucks hosted its second cup summit, bringing together municipalities, suppliers, manufacturers, recyclers, NGOs and more to develop solutions for making paper and plastic cups more widely recyclable. Earlier that month, on April 15, Starbucks ran a promotion giving a free coffee to anyone who brought in a reusable mug to use. Some Starbucks offer to serve drink in reusable mugs that stay at the location, and all give customers a 10 cent discount when they use their own reusable mug.

Starbucks cup trash - CC license by Flickr user Genista