We might soon start seeing the piles of waste generated by the fast food industry getting a bit smaller.
The NextGen Cup Challenge, the most ambitious competition on sustainable cups to date, has finally announced its winners. Out of the 480 teams that joined, 12 have been chosen as worthy of special note.
Sustainability challenges are known as a great way to look for novel solutions. Yet solutions don’t always get much beyond the challenge itself. This time the task was to “design a fiber cup to be recoverable on a global scale while maintaining the performance standards we know and trust.” The winners who managed the task have come up with solutions across three categories: innovative cup liners, new materials, and reusable cup service models.
Should we care about cup liners? Yes. The thin layer of plastic on most paper cups makes it extremely hard to recycle them. And you can’t simply get rid of it because it helps the cup withstand moisture. According to the jury, the best ways to address this problem include a water-based liner by Colombier, water-based biopolymers and bio-waxes by Solenis, and biodegradable plastic liners by PTT MCC Biochem.
In terms of new materials, only one company have stood out from the crowd. Solublue Ltd. from the UK is ready to conquer the market with plant-based, biodegradable and non-toxic solutions.
Service cup models have been around for some time, yet Cup Club from the UK and Revolv from Indonesia have invented innovative collection schemes and smart tech applications. Taking care of the full cycle, the companies deliver cups, make sure they are never lost or thrown away through RFID tech, and replace used cups with clean ones as often as needed.
Another winner in the category turned out a ReCup from Germany. The scheme allows people to rent reusable cups and return them at any coffee shop that is part of a large country-wide network. It is a noteworthy example of collaboration across the industry in creating an infrastructure for responsible lifestyle choices.
While many of the companies on the list are just starting out, a share of the $1 million prize might help them take the next step forward. Half of the companies will also join a post-challenge business accelerator to advance their solutions further for a global impact.
The challenge is part of a larger project by Closed Loop Partners, Starbucks, McDonald’s and other companies united under the NextGen Consortium to accelerate sustainable cup innovations. These companies have enormous environmental footprints and they seem to be trying to do something about it. We might soon start seeing the piles of waste generated by the fast food industry, coffee shops and mass events getting a bit smaller.