58 billion is a hard number to get your head around — the number of paper cups thrown away (not recycled) each year. Appropredia (an awesome wiki on sustainabilty data) estimates that you get about 2,500 cups out of each tree. Here are the dramatic impacts added up:

  • 23 million trees felled
  • 13 species extinct
  • 7.2 million tons of CO2
  • 14. 5 billion gallons of fresh water
  • About 1 billion pounds of waste
... all so we can conveniently down our favorite hot beverages on the run. It's a massive problem, and to date no good solutions have been put forward. It's not really about changing consumers' recycling behavior because most paper cups are coated with wax and therefore not recyclable. And for some reason, the reusable thermos cups have never caught on. Too hard to clean? Bulky to carry around? Weird lids?

So a design challenge has been issued by Betacup, a project of core77, an amazing product design publication. One notable sponsor is Starbucks, a company that is responsible for a huge percentage of that cup waste and (from what I understand) is highly motivated to find a solution (though one wonders why 20 years worth of billion dollar profits wouldn't have to led to some R & D initiatives of their own). 

The prize winner will receive $10,000 and the potential of starting a revolution in the business of beverage containers. Submissions started last month and voting will go on through May. I'm not sure I agree that it will save the world, but if a good solution is found that rethinks the way we consume hot beverages, it would certainly be a step in the right direction!

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