It is a cup as service, rather than cup as product.
Marcus Fairs writes a great intro to an interview:
Architect Safia Qureshi wanted to change the world but ended up designing private houses for rich people. So she invented Cupclub, a circular-economy service that could eliminate single-use coffee cups.
It is actually a very clever idea: a polypropylene cup and with a polyethylene lid and an RFID chip in the bottom so that it can be tracked. The designer tells Fairs in Dezeen:
You just drink and drop. You go to your favourite coffee shop – at the moment that will be in offices and university campuses. You order your coffee with the Cupclub product. The barista will remind you to put the cup in one of the collection points when you’re done, and that’s it. Our orders are directly with the retailer; consumers don’t pay any extra.
Cupclub then collects the cups from any drop point, washes them and reuses them an estimated 132 times.
On the CupClub site, they explain that it is much like the London Bikeshare program, where you don't pay to own a bike, but pay per ride. "To create an effective circular economy, Cupclub has reworked the idea of ‘owning a cup’ to ‘pay per drink’ which covers the cost of the cup, the maintenance and infrastructure costs."
It's actually brilliant; the customer gets the convenience of a takeaway cup, the coffee vendor doesn't have to worry about washing china, the municipality doesn't have to deal with the garbage; it creates a zero waste, circular economy.
CupClub won part of the $2m New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize from the Ellen MacArther Foundation, who have been doing great work exposing the problems of single use plastic and and looking for solutions. This one could really work; we are creatures of habit and often go back to the same coffee shop chain.
On the page where they are looking for retailers, they say that the cost per use will be 15p (21 US cents) per cup and lid; I thought this sounded high but apparently it's not. One coffee site says that the cup, lid and stirrer cost about 32 cents, which is more than the cost of the coffee that goes into it.
And that doesn't include the cost of recycling and landfilling. In Canada alone, 1.5 billion disposable cups are landfilled every year because they are not recyclable thanks to the plastic lining. That's why this is so important, such a great model, and such an inspiration for sustainable designers. Marcus Fairs asks an important question:
Marcus Fairs: Do you believe that design can really improve the world and change behaviours?
Safia Qureshi: One hundred per cent. It starts with design because ultimately it’s not the consumer that is going to make a decision: it’s brands. So it’s our responsibility to ensure that products have an end-of-life value or function. So we’re not closing our brief at the point of use. We have to understand what will happen after. That needs to be wound back into the process of design. We need to think about the materials and the afterlife.
Years ago, TreeHugger Warren used to talk about Product Service Systems, which we started calling the sharing economy but it really wasn't the same thing. This is truly a PSS, where the cup becomes a service. What a great example of sustainable design. Read the whole interview at Dezeen.