I used to work in an office, and every day my co-workers would do the same thing: wake up, go to work, and get coffee – and every day in a disposable cup! I couldn’t understand it. At the time, I wasn’t necessarily on the “environmental bandwagon,” but from a simple efficiency standpoint, this seemed like a waste of resources. When I was preparing for business school, I read Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press, 2002) and it made me rethink wasteful consumer habits.
Americans throw away 50 billion paper cups every year, which equals 800 million pounds of waste and 12.5 million pounds of CO2 emissions. The situation grows dire when you take into account the polystyrene cups and lids, which are not recyclable or biodegradable, and that this type of plastic is a likely carcinogen, especially when heated (learn more about this and efforts by Dunkin’ Donuts and Dell to switch here).
Making a Game of Ditching Disposable Coffee Cups
So it was during my MBA program that I came up with the concept for “Kill the Cup” – a social media-inspired game that offered prizes and rewards to coffee drinkers who shared photos posing with their reusable coffee cups. We worked with campus coffee shops to measure the impact. After just eight weeks, we saw a triple-bottom line increase – less waste, more profits, and more excitement around sustainability.
Fast-forward 18 months… Our team is preparing to launch the inaugural “Kill the Cup University Challenge,” a four-week U.S.-wide contest to motivate as many students as possible to switch their disposable coffee cups to reusable mugs. Participating schools include Boston University, NYU, University of Michigan, Georgetown University, University of San Diego, among others.
Students Win Prizes for Switching to Reusable Mugs
Students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to bring their own reusable cups to campus coffee locations and upload photos of themselves to Kill The Cup.com Student ambassadors at each university will then track the progress and popularity of their campaigns. The teams that generate the greatest improvements in environmental awareness and reducing waste will be eligible for $5,000 in grants to fund their own social impact projects.
The rate of reusable coffee cup use has been a point of interest for many national coffee retailers, including Starbucks, which has set a 2015 goal of achieving a 5% reuse rate. But reported figures from 2012 and 2013 have been only 1.5% and 1.8% respectively. This is pretty sad. If we’re serious about changing behavior, we have to do it ourselves and make it fun and engaging. While we’re reducing waste from disposable coffee cups with the latest Kill the Cup effort, we’re also hopefully providing young adults with the skills and inspiration needed to solve the waste problems of tomorrow.
How about you? Ready to Kill the Cup? Tell us more about your experience ditching disposables and carrying a reusable one instead.
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