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How Beer Festivals Can Teach Us How To Change The Way We Consume Products

Platform that allows the implementation of circular economy strategies which provide financial rewards for coffee shop owners and consumers

Photo of Juan Forno

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I went for a few beers with a buddy of mine to brainstorm ideas for this Circular Design Challenge and we ended up getting on a tangent about beer festivals and how big those beer mugs are! He was telling me that he once lost the little blue coin that they give you when you pay the deposit on the mug while he was dancing so he was not able to get his money back (although taking home a traditional 3-pound German beer mug souvenir was not a bad deal). The story sparked an interesting conversation about how beer festival organizers managed to create a sustainable way to provide a service (beer) to people without generating waste. 

After further discussing the concept, we added a few other strategies that are already being used by businesses and we came up with a solution that could help coffee shops provide their services without generating waste and at the same time create a financial incentive for themselves and their customers. 

This idea borrows the following concepts/strategies that have already been established and, in a way, market tested (Please see examples for all three strategies above – Disclaimer: I do not have one artistic bone in my body)

-Deposit Strategy For Containers
-Rewards Programs (Apps) + Purchase tracking
-Reusable Cups / “Bring your own cup” service delivery models

Our idea is essentially to create a program which is paired with an app that rewards customers for getting their drinks in either a reusable cup that they bring from home, or by paying a deposit (which they will get back upon return) on one of the shop’s standard reusable ones.

Here is how it would work (crappy explanation pictures included).

Option 1: Deposit on coffee shop’s reusable cup

Let’s say Sam goes to Coffee Shop X to get his morning cup of coffee. He would order the coffee and pay the discounted fee plus $3 deposit for the reusable cup. Sam would then open the program’s app and have the cashier scan the bar code to receive both his virtual deposit voucher (like the blue coin in beer festivals) and the rewards points that would give him future gifts and discounts.

Once Sam is done, he can return the cup to a participating store, scan the app again and get his deposit back, keep the deposit voucher and simply get a clean cup with a new purchase, keep it, or toss it. Because the deposit covers the cost of the cup, the store does not lose any money and since the cup would be made from durable material, it can get tossed in a bin to get recycled. Another benefit is that customers who are returning the deposit cups might be prone to purchase from the store again given that they are already in.

Option 2: “Bring Your Own” Model

This option is pretty straight forward. Let’s say Sam brings his own cup from home. He would just hand the cup to the cashier, scan the app, pay the discounted price and get his rewards from the program.

How The Program + App Can Benefit Store-Owners, Customers, and the Environment


  • Discounted prices on drinks
  • They can receive discounts and rewards
  • There is an opportunity to include elements of gamification (Think about how fit bit makes tracking steps into a game) like a personal environmental impact meter or medals as participation and consistency on program increases.
  • It does not matter if they forget their own cups at home

Business Owners:

  • The app can provide consumer analytics: information about their client’s purchasing preferences and habits that help make better financial decisions. This can also be beneficial for small coffee shops who want to launch tailored marketing campaigns that are tailored to consumer preferences.
  • The app could potentially create a more direct channel of communication to their customers.
  • Save money on single-use use cups
  • Improve brand image
  • As mentioned before, people returning their cups might be tempted to buy form shop again.


  • Less plastic waste from lids (Yey!)
  • The app can also become a channel through which we can educate people who want to learn more about ways to contribute to the betterment of the environment and other circular economy models.

This idea is in its initial stages but we want to note that the essence of it is the platform (Program + App). This is what allows customers to enjoy the performance of the use a coffee cup can have and not have to be burdened with the ownership of it. In terms of the cups themselves, we have seen a plethora of great designs in this Idea Phase that can be used as the “Standard Deposit Cup”. We are also trying to debate whether the cups should be produced by us or the businesses themselves. The advantage of us producing the cups is that it will allow for a more standardized application of the program. On the other hand, the businesses may want to brand their own cups which will alleviate us having to create them.

Company / Organization Name

AZ Think Tank

Where are you / your team located?

Tempe, Arizona

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

This idea makes it so that businesses can offer a service without generating waste to distribute that service. It allows businesses to track their methods of distribution (in this case coffee cups) beyond the point of purchase, which is one of the main objectives of a Circular Economy. It is not so much as redesigning small format plastic but eliminating the need of them.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Use Case 3

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

The idea can virtually operate in any metropolitan area where there is a culture of on-the-go drink consumption. Because we wanted to come up with an idea that could be feasible locally, in this specific case, the scope focuses on local coffee shops.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

The platform aspect would be simple to scale. That being said, obstacles naturally come when ideas are first implemented. Standardization may be a concern since people bringing their own cups may cause safety (temperatures), sanitation, and usability for coffee machines issues. A way to tackle this is by having stores sell their own versions of a durable cup (which most already do). Eventually, this will not be an optional program but a way coffee shops do business.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

The Accelerator will help us develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) prototype of the platform that we can test with a few local coffee shops. After a 1-2 month test time we would make iterations and polish interface and application details. Mentorship will be crucial in developing an interface that is intuitive and simple to follow. We want this to be something that anyone can learn to do on the fly. They will also help develop the right partnerships to get the idea off the ground.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Although the spark came from our initial conversation, we had been exposed in different ways to the three concepts that we merged to create this idea. But the greatest source of inspiration came from the TED Talk video we included. The reason why we create so much waste is because the performance life cycles of products are way shorter than the life cycle of products. These insights allowed us to think in terms of the performance of a product and not the ownership of it.

Tell us about your work experience

I have a background in Business Entrepreneurship & Model Development, and Project Management. Alex has a background in Sustainability, Applied Mathematics, Data Analytics, and Emerging Tech Assessment


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Juan Pablo Forno 

As Refinement Phase quickly comes to a close in LESS THAN 8 HOURS, I want to remind you that the following must be submitted by tonight, August 31st at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

1. Submit the Refinement Questions Form online that was sent again via email yesterday evening--we have not yet received this from you. These questions are mandatory for Top Ideas consideration, so this should be your first priority in the final stretch.

2. A secondary priority, which is optional, is to update your Refinement Phase post. I see you've already updated your concept on the platform. But please share any additional information, photos, and documentation of your progress throughout this Phase!

Looking forward to reviewing and celebrating the amazing work you've achieved this Refinement Phase! 

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