Bubble Economy

Fall 2021

Luca Cao  |  Yash Mittal  |  Jasper Krarup  |  Max Stockdale

A systems map with a goal of reducing single-use plastics in the bubble tea community. How might we induce a culture of recycling boba packaging on campus?


Systems Thinking  |  User Research  |  Communication Design

A single bubble tea shop sells a minimum of 50,000 cups annually with the majority of waste ending up in landfills and polluting our ecosystem. On a global scale, the boba market generates high profits, but it is also notorious for creating plastic waste. On a city scale, bubble tea stores in Pittsburgh are not implementing any sustainable initiatives that aim at reducing plastic wastes. On a CMU campus scale, bubble tea drinks are popular, but there is a lack of facilities that support the recycling of those specific plastic wastes. On an individual level, most people do not know how to correctly recycle the drink containers after consumption.

Google Forms  |  Figma  |  Illustrator
Research - Observation + Participatory Design

We started with a google form to get a better understanding of the current trends. Since the survey was primarily focused on CMU students, observations and interviews at boba shops allowed us to gain more insight to some of the stakeholders outside of the CMU community. While conducting this research, we also looked into other sources about market trends, single-use plastics, and possible solutions.


Interviews at a popular bubble tea shop, Tsaocaa, showed us what a typical day would look like. Without Covid restrictions, Tsaocaa planned to allow customers to bring in reusable cups and get a discount. This would help reduce single use plastics, due to the fact that around 50% of their sales were online orders. Overall, being popular among college students, there is a lack of guidance on how to recycle the cup properly and a lack of recycling facilities on campus.


Considering our findings, we designed three possible solutions within the individual, community, and municipal level. The first solution was focused on introducing more recycling facilities on campus. The second, is all about redesigning the current packaging to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Lastly, we focused on altering the relationship between the consumers and producers to promote sustainable practices.


By figuring out key problem areas within just one type of drink packaging, we are then able to scale these solutions. Further, we can use our research to implement ways to inform consumers, redesign packaging, and frame municipal policies that create meaningful change within this system and help develop a more sustainable and environmentally conscious community.

Final Map  -  Feel free to read more!  PDF Link
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