In an effort to boost sustainability and reduce waste, social impact platform OpenIDEO partnered with Closed Loop Partners, an investment company, and NextGen Consortium, which partners with brands to reduce packaging waste, to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge. Along with Founding Partners Starbucks and McDonald's, the challenge set out to brainstorm effective, compostable coffee cup designs. You can take a look at the innovative winners of Closed Loop's NextGen Cup Challenge to see just how they turned out. Honestly, I'm nerding out RN.
Being mindful of your contribution to unnecessary waste is extremely important, especially when consumerism is at an all time high. According to Starbucks, heightened consumerism means even more waste. For example, over 250 billion "fiber to-go cups" are produced (and thrown away) every year, which consequentially leads to even more detrimental environmental consequences, per the coffee company. Many cups are recyclable, however, the majority of them end up in landfills.
This is why Starbucks and McDonald's got behind the NextGen Cup Challenge as Founding Partners, to see what kinds of eco-friendly, recyclable, or compostable paper cups people come up with. Other brands supporting the effort include four Supporting Partners — Coca-Cola, Yum! Brands, Nestlé, and Wendy’s — and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as an Advisory Partner for the Consortium.
There were over 500 submissions from over 50 countries since March 2018, and the winners were announced on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Take a look at the 12 winning designs presented on the OpenIDEO website below. They're beyond cool, and the improvements focus on "innovative cup liners" and "new materials," per the website.
1. Earth Cup
C.E.E.R. Schisler brought the Earth Cup all the way from France. It's 100 percent paper, totally compostable, and works for both hot and cold drinks.
2. Colombier BioBarrier Coating
Colombier Group created Colombier BioBarrier Coating. Hailing all the way from the Netherlands, they've created an ecological barrier to maintain temperature and liquid.
British company CupClub presented a returnable cup system which allows customers to take away hot and cold beverages from any participating cafe, before returning the cups to any nearby CupClub drop point. It's kind of like those bike share programs (but for cups), if you think about it.
4. Footprint Formed Fiber Solution
U.S. company Footprint US presented the Footprint Cup, which includes a formed fiber cup, lid, and paper straw. All of it is recyclable and compostable.
5. The Game Changer Cup
Finnish sustainable brand Kotkamills Oy presented the Game Changer Cup, which is plastic free, recyclable, and compostable. It can be processed into cups at already-existing cup making machines.
6. New Gen BioPBS Coated Cup
Thai company PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited created the New Gen BioPBS Coated Cup, which is essentially coated paper. It's totally recyclable and home compostable, which is definitely ideal.
The ReCup is a "deposit system for reusable cups" made by German brand ReCup GmbH, and it allows you to rent a reusable cup. After using it, you can bring it to the same store you got it at or any participating store.
Indonesian company Revolv introduced the Revolv cup, which is a deposit-based platform for smart reusable food. The cups are tagged and tracked via the internet.
9. Solenis Topscreen
U.S. and Belgian company Solenis came out with Solenis Topscreen which creates a compostable and recyclable coating. It significantly enhances the product while minimizing environmental impact.
10. Solublue Biodegradable Cups and Straws
The Solublue Biodegratable Cups and Straws by UK brand Solublue are plant-based, food-grade, and non-toxic. They degrade after use, which could mean fewer cups in landfills, so that sounds promising.
11. Sun Chemical — Inks and Coatings
Sun Chemical, a U.S. brand, created Inks and Coatings recyclable and compostable cups in an effort to "replace polyethylene-coated paper cups." Plus, the design is way cute.
12. WestRock Circular Cup Solution
WestRock brought the Circular Cup Solution from the U.S., and they're simply paper cups that meet all current specifications in the paper cup and foodservice industry, and they're also compostable and recyclable. Nice!
And alas, there were two honorable mentions. They didn't make the top 12, but they were still pretty inventive.
Nature's Cup by U.S. brand CRÈME is — by far — my favorite aesthetic. It's created from a 3D-printed mold, and it looks so different from any other to-go cups I've ever seen.
Finally, there's the Mushroom Cup by U.S. company, Concentric LLC. It's made of an organic base material, including wood pulp, corn husks, and discarded grains, along with a mycelium organism, and cellulose acetate. And since it's compostable, it won't be an addition to landfills.
All of these cups sound like great eco-friendly alternatives, and I think I might even enjoy my latte little more knowing that my to-go cup won't wind up in a landfill.
According to the Starbucks, the coffee company invested $10 million to help launch the challenge, and McDonald's, the other Founding Partner, pledged $5 million at the beginning of the challenge (final investment figures for each Consortium Partner weren't immediately available). Each of the 12 winners will be awarded a portion of up to $1 million in funding. Then, according to Starbucks, six will be selected by a panel of expert external judges, the Consortium Founding Partners and OpenIDEO, to receive even more support to put the top cups Starbucks and McDonald's locations. Finding good replacements for their coffee cups is hard to attain right now, because the to-go cups you've probably come to know and love have liners to effectively prevent your hot drink from leaking. Sadly, though, the liner prevents it from being universally recyclable. Hopefully, the winner of the challenge will make recycling and composting these hot beverage cups much easier in the future.
In the meantime, while you're waiting for the latest in compostable cup technology to come your way (I'm keeping my eye on Cup Club, TBH), there are several ways you can be more aware of of your coffee cup waste. For example, Starbucks recommends recycling or composting your cup whenever possible. That way, they won't be thrown into landfills. If you'd like to take it a step further, however, the brand suggests taking advantage of their enticing 10 cent discount. If you bring a reusable cup to a participating Starbucks store, you'll get a full 10 cents off your order. That totally adds up in the long run, and if you ask me, it's a really great incentive to bring your favorite to-go mug to work everyday.
Limiting your waste can be really tricky, which is why improving the compostability of to-go cups is so important. Each of the designs look amazing, and honestly, I can't wait to see who ends up winning. It will totally be a close call, if you ask me: These definitely aren't your average cups of joe.