Vancouver, BC • 2018 - 2020
Team: Melanie Chanona, Sarah Day, Allie Riley, Isolina Zazzara-Yu

‍I helped design a new way to grab a cup of coffee. I also learned how to manage a product recall.

Photo of mugshare mug, a black reusable mug with a teal lid. The mug is on a counter near a point-of-sale machine.


User interviews
Business model design
Process flow
Crisis management


Business model

The challenge

Despite being a city known for its sustainability, in my hometown of Vancouver, BC, 2.6 million single-use cups are thrown away every week.  From coffee shops to corporate headquarters, those white polycoated cups are ubiquitous in our waste bins.

Problem discovery

Along with several friends from university, we spoke to coffee drinkers and cafe owners. We learned that existing solutions to combat single-use waste weren't quite cutting it.

Drawing of a paper coffee cup.

Compostable cups

This was and continues to be the most popular solution. However, in many municipalities, recycling facilities are not set up to properly process these cups. Further, the cups aren't 100% organic, meaning microplastics can still leak into the environment.

Drawing of a Canadian quarter coin

Single-use fee

In January 2022, the City of Vancouver implemented a $0.25 fee for single-use cups. Critics argued that this did not discourage more sustainable behaviour and unfairly punished vulnerable people. This law was scrapped as of February 2023.

Drawing of a navy blue reusable coffee mug

Bring Your Own Mug

We love this. We bring our mugs everywhere we go. But that's the problem - you're lugging around an empty mug for a good chunk of the day. It's also very easy to forget your mug at home. This is a great solution but the user experiences high friction.

Problem definition

Single-use cups continue to be ubiquitous in our cities' waste systems. Coffee and tea drinkers need a way to enjoy their beverages that eliminates the need for single-use cups throughout the cafe service but is just as convenient.

How does mugshare work?

We learned that the solution design needed to: (1) eliminate the need for single-use cups throughout the cafe service, (2) cost $0 to the coffee drinker, and (3) be convenient and minimize friction.

The model: A deposit-return system that integrated naturally into the cafe experience. I joined the mugshare team as they were planning on rolling out this prototype model beyond the University of British Columbia's campus and to the wider Vancouver community.
Graphic of how mugshare works. 1. Order a drink and pay a $5 deposit. 2. Enjoy your drink. 3. Return the used mug and get your deposit back.
Photo of mugshare mugs stacked at a conference.


10,000+ uses / cups displaced from the landfill
30+ cafes & 1 corporate HQ office
1 product recall

Minimizing friction points

We were able to:
Displace 10,000+ cups from the landfill

Making the sustainable choice is not always the easiest. Sometimes it's more expensive, sometimes it's more cumbersome. mugshare was designed to reduce as many of these friction points as possible. First, we opted not to use a membership model. The requirement to sign up for another membership or download yet another app turned users away. Second, the deposit amount ($5) needed to be high enough to incentivize users to return their mugs, but low enough so that it was accessible for everyone. Finally, buy-in from the cafe staff was critical - it needed to integrate seamlessly into their process. Our mugs initially weren't stackable, but we redesigned them to ensure they could be treated the same way as paper cups.
Photo of mugshare mug beside a person using a laptop computer

Understanding and aligning incentives

We were able to:
Grow from 12 to 30+ cafes (& 1 corporate HQ)

Our initial business model was based on selling our mugs. We realized, however, that this incentivized mugshare to sell as many mugs as possible, resulting in more materials usage and emissions from transportation. Further, cafes operate on thin margins, and asking them to pay an upfront cost to operate mugshare made it difficult for cafes to adopt the program.

We redesigned the business model to focus on a new metric: the per-use fee. We sold the mugs at-cost, and instead earned revenue every time mugshare was used. The per-use fee was less than the cost of a single paper cup, meaning cafes truly saved money every time mugshare was used.

Doing the right thing

We were able to:
Manage 1 product recall

In late 2019, we got a report from one of our cafe partners that a mug had cracked while a barista was pouring tea into the mug. We immediately performed our own tests. Could it be the temperature difference as mugs were transported in between the wintry outdoors and warm cafes? Or could it an user error? After doing our own tests, none of the mugs cracked under extreme conditions. We theorized that the regular wear-and-tear led to microfractures forming, which expanded into larger cracks when hot liquids were poured in.

However, we were still faced with a dilemma - how many injuries as a result of mugshare could we tolerate? What are the possible consequences and ramifications if we don't take action? After a thoughtful discussion as a team, we decided that we could not tolerate a single injury as a result of using mugshare. We notified Health Canada (the FDA's Canadian counterpart) and coordinated a product recall and offered refunds to our cafe partners. We braced at the backlash this could lead to - angry cafe partners, a bad reputation for sustainable initiatives. To our pleasant surprise, many of our partners responded graciously. I will always remember one of our partners telling us: "We need to take risks when we innovate. This is part of the process."

Learn more

Screenshot of mugshare website
Screenshot of news article with the headline: Vancouver's mugshare program is tackling pollution one cup at a time.Screenshot of news article with the headline: New Vancouver mug-sharing programs offer fix for takeout waste.