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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Collaborations Fostering Next-Gen Solutions for Coffee Cups, Paper Packaging

Environmental NGO Canopy rallies apparel brands around better paper packaging; and six graduates of the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator prepare to bring their their sustainable coffee cup solutions to market.

10 companies join new Canopy initiative to reduce packaging’s impacts on forests, species, climate

Image credit: Pinterest

Today, ten brands — apparel companies ASOS, Gina Tricot, H&M, Kontoor, QLOTHÈ, Reformation, TOMS, VF Corporation and ZILVER; and global marketing execution partner HH Global — are joining forces with environmental not-for-profit Canopy for its new Pack4Good initiative, which aims to mitigate the impacts of the world’s packaging supply chain on forests.

New research has found that roughly three billion trees disappear into packaging every year — a sourcing practice that leaves in its wake a trail of deforestation, degraded forest ecosystems, threatened species and an increasingly volatile climate. This is the impetus behind Pack4Good, the goal of which is to curb the world’s voracious appetite for packaging; and to ensure that shipping boxes, wrappers, disposable cups and other forest-based packaging originate from recycled inputs and next-generation solutions, rather than the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests.
“Nobody wants packaging made with the habitat of endangered species such as orangutans or caribou, any more than they want a plastic box that threatens dolphins,” said Nicole Rycroft, founder and Executive Director of Canopy. "That’s why Canopy is partnering with brands on Pack4Good to develop smart solutions that work for business, as well as for our planet's natural systems, climate and species."
Parallel with its plastic counterparts, paper-based packaging has a crushing footprint on the world’s forests, biodiversity and climate. More than half of the paper used globally is for packaging; with the surge of e-commerce and necessary shifts away from plastics, demand for forest/paper-based packaging is growing aggressively, and so is its devastating impact on high-carbon forest landscapes and species habitats. Already, 241 million tons of paper packaging is produced annually, and that number is expected to double by 2030. With forests forming 30 percent of the possible solution to the climate crisis, some forward-thinking users of forest based-packaging are now galvanizing to transform this supply chain.
"We’re committed to reducing the impact of our packaging on the environment and currently use 100 percent-recycled material in our paper-based delivery boxes. However, more must be done,” says Tom Byrne, Senior Sustainability Manager at ASOS. “Joining Canopy’s Pack4Good Initiative means we can work closely with Canopy, other global brands and packaging producers to foster innovation in packaging design, maximize the use of recycled content across the industry, and support the development of circular, next-generation alternatives to current packaging."
The companies participating in Pack4Good have set ambitious goals to help address the climate crisis, committing to ensure that by the end of 2022 all of their packaging will be:

  • Designed to reduce material use.

  • Designing for Circularity-Friendly Behaviors

    Join us as leaders from BBMG and REI examine how leading brands are innovating and scaling circular models to attract new fans and earn customer loyalty, all while eliminating waste — Thurs, May 9, at Brand-Led Culture Change.

    Free of Ancient and Endangered forests.

  • Maximizing recycled or alternative, next-generation fibers (such as fiber from agricultural residues or microbial cellulose).

  • Using FSC-certified fiber when virgin-forest fiber continues to be used.

Recent years have seen a significant decline in the world’s tolerance for plastic packaging. Pack4Good aims to work synergistically with these efforts to continue to shift the packaging sector to develop radically efficient design and systems, and to adopt alternative fibers at a commercial scale. It will also secure protection of forests that have been heavily impacted by pulp and paper production — including Canada’s Boreal, Brazil’s and Indonesia’s rainforests, and the coastal temperate rainforests of the world.

6 graduates from NextGen Circular Business Accelerator ready to scale their sustainable cup solutions

Muuse operates a deposit-based platform for smart, reusable beverage packaging, connecting its cups — and third-party products — to Internet of Things technologies. | Image credit: Muuse

Speaking of “next-gen” material solutions, NextGen Consortium Partners, investors, and other stakeholders convened during Climate Week in New York City last week for a Demo Day, in which six participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator showcased their manufacture-ready prototypes and pitch-ready business plans for growing their sustainable cup solutions.

The Accelerator follows Closed Loop Partners’ announcement of 12 NextGen Cup Challenge winners in February 2019. Six of the winning teams — Colombier, CupClub, Footprint, Muuse, RECUP and SoluBlue — entered the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, launched in partnership with global design firm IDEO, to help companies further refine their cup solutions through rapid learning and iteration. The diverse solutions include cutting-edge, plant-based materials; new innovations in cup liners; and reusable cup systems that redesign the fiber to-go cup to be more widely recoverable or remain in circulation for multiple uses.

During the rigorous, six-month Accelerator, participants tested their innovations through live, in-context prototyping across four distinct Google campus locations, each housing multiple cafes. Progress for each cup solution was measured across four key categories: customer experience, server experience, performance and disposal. The teams were able to see firsthand how customers and servers interact with their cups in a restaurant-like environment, capturing real-time feedback in a low-risk setting and identifying areas for refinement.

Participants also explored the recovery side of the cup value chain, visiting materials-recovery facilities and learning about the systems and infrastructure in place to ensure that their solutions are in alignment. Additionally, they studied the value of materials recovered post-processing of their cups, in order to make the economic case for more circular approaches.

Throughout the Accelerator, the teams gained invaluable feedback through direct engagement with NextGen Consortium Partners — including founding partners Starbucks and McDonald’s; supporting partners The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé, and Wendy’s; advisory partner WWF, and innovation partner IDEO. Feedback included insight into what it would take to roll out their solutions at a large scale.

“We are proud of the NextGen collaboration underway with so many companies championing greener cup technologies,” says John Kelly, SVP of Global Public Affairs & Social Impact at Starbucks. “We applaud Closed Loop Partners’ continued, on-track progress to determine what’s most viable, and we are excited for our own customers to try greener cups in our stores in the near future.”

The companies were also welcomed behind the scenes of a McDonald’s restaurant to better understand how cups work within a store’s layout and staff operations.

“We were thrilled to have participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator experience. Having these next-gen solutions in our restaurants to see firsthand how our crew members manage through our restaurant operations is an important step,” says Marion Gross, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s USA. “Compatibility with the fast pace of a QSR setting is critical, and it was great to see Accelerator teams jump at the opportunity to better understand these in-restaurant conditions. These cup solutions are helping shape the future of packaging, and we want to set them up for success while keeping valuable materials in circulation and, importantly, out of landfills and our oceans.”

The other six winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge, which are later-stage in their development, are working with the NextGen Consortium to identify in-market piloting opportunities in regions across the globe. Some participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator are also expected to announce in-store pilots as early as 2020.

The Cup Challenge and the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator are just one part of the NextGen Consortium’s efforts to address single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The Consortium is also focused on infrastructure and consumer engagement, supported by stakeholder collaboration across the value chain.

“Watching the aggregation of innovative ideas turn into real progress has been exciting to watch,” says Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability R&D at WWF. “Now we’ll look to the members of the NextGen Consortium to take these solutions into the marketplace and watch real change happen.”