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Product, Service & Design Innovation
12 Winners of NextGen Cup Challenge Reimagining the Future of the To-Go Cup

Starbucks, McDonald's and other industry leaders partner in pre-competitive collaboration to drive sustainable design and find innovative cup solutions.

Today, the NextGen Consortium, convened by Closed Loop Partners, announced today the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge — an open-sourced, global innovation challenge to redesign the fiber to-go cup and create a widely recyclable and/or compostable cup.

After a rigorous, four-month review process by an esteemed group of judges — including NextGen Consortium business leaders and experts in recycling, composting and packaging — the Challenge narrowed the nearly 500 submissions from over 50 countries down to 12 winners.

These winning solutions — in the categories of innovative cup liners, new materials, and reusable cup service models — have the potential to turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into a valuable material in the recycling system.

"This is a notable milestone to achieve our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably, which is a particular passion for our over 350,000 Starbucks partners," said John Kelly, SVP of Global Public Affairs and Social Impact at Starbucks. "We're a founding partner of the NextGen Consortium because we believe it will take the scale and influence of many global companies to make recyclable, compostable to-go cups an industry standard, rather than the exception."

The 12 winners

Innovative Cup Liners

These companies are rethinking the polyethylene plastic liners in cups that currently make to-go cups difficult to recycle:

Colombier BioBarrier Coating by Colombier Group (Finland, Netherlands) — to replace plastic in cups, food containers and packaging. 

Earth Cup by C.E.E R. SCHISLER with the contribution of Sun Chemical (France) — a home-compostable, 100 percent paper cup (no polyethylene) for hot and cold drinks and ice cream. It is also recyclable and has the same technical barriers and food contact certification as polyethylene cups.

Footprint Formed Fiber Solution by Footprint US — a formed fiber cup, lid and paper straw solution that is recyclable and compostable.

Image credit: Footprint US

The Game Changer Cup by Kotkamills Oy (Finland) — a plastic free, recyclable and compostable cup stock that can be processed into cups at existing cup-making machines. 

New Gen BioPBS Coated Cup by PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited (Thailand) — a solution for all coated paper packaging to make them recyclable or home compostable.

Solenis Topscreen: Consumer Board by Solenis LLC (Belgium, USA) — a recyclable and compostable barrier coating.

Inks and Coatings by Sun Chemical Corporation (USA) — to help replace polyethylene-coated paper cups with cost-effective structures that are recyclable and compostable.

WestRock Circular Cup Solution by WestRock Corporation (USA) — a recyclable and compostable paperboard solution for hot or cold beverage cup applications that meets all current specifications in the paper cup and foodservice industry while improving recoverability and enhancing the recycling process through 100 percent repulpability.

New Materials

This company is using cutting-edge, plant-based materials to make compostable cups:

Solublue Biodegradable Cups and Straws by Solublue Ltd (UK) — plant-based, food-grade and non-toxic products that biodegrade after use, designed to replace single-use plastics in cups and straws, food retail packaging and structural packaging.

Image credit: Solublue Ltd.

Reusable Cup Service Models

The cups made by these companies aren’t single-use, they just keep cycling — remaining in service:

The Reusable Revolution by CupClub (UK) — the world's first returnable cup ecosystem which replaces the 100 billion single-use cups and lids used globally every year. CupClub allows consumers to take away hot and cold beverages from any participating cafe, returning them when finished to the nearest CupClub drop point; think bike sharing, but for cups.

ReCup Deposit System for Reusable Cups by ReCup GmbH (Germany) — a sustainable alternative to disposable cups, and a more convenient one to reusable ones that you have to buy, carry around and, most often, forget at home. With ReCup, instead of bringing your own cup from home, you simply rent your cup for a deposit whenever and wherever you’re in the actual need for a drink to go. After consumption, return your cup to the same or any other participating shop in the same or any other city. You then receive the deposit back and don’t have to worry about the cleaning of the cup or carrying it around. By participating in the ReCup system, shops benefit from a convenient and holistic service.

Revolv by Revolv (Indonesia, Hong Kong) — a deposit-based platform for smart, reusable food and beverage packaging in office, festival, restaurant-chain, and city-wide networks with the goal of eliminating single-use waste. Revolv’s cups — and third-party products — to IoT technology through RFID tags and an intuitive mobile/web platform.

Honorable Mentions

Although not winners, these are two examples of the many innovative material types submitted to the Challenge that merited an Honorable Mention:

Nature's Cup by CRÈME / Jun Aizaki Architecture & Design (USA) — a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic cups, using gourds which are naturally grown inside custom-designed 3D-printed molds.

Mushroom Cup by Concentric LLC (USA) — a compostable cup grown into shape using mushrooms and coated with cellulose acetate, a biodegradable plastic. The mushroom cup is made primarily from 3 materials: a base organic material (such as wood pulp, corn husks or discarded grains); the mycelium organism, which binds that material together; and cellulose acetate, which is used as a protective waterproof coating for the cup. The concept does not need any additional infrastructure to recover the cup once it's discarded. 

Image credit: Concentric LLC

The NextGen Consortium brings together many of the largest players in the food and beverage industry, making it a unique, pre-competitive collaboration. Starbucks and McDonald's were early investors and founding partners, with The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy's joining as supporting partners. WWF acts as an advisory member of the Consortium, and OpenIDEO is an innovation partner. Collectively representing a significant portion of the cups market, these brands are not only demonstrating their commitment to ending cup waste and driving innovation in packaging, but also accelerating the paths to global scale.

"McDonald's is proud to work with such an unprecedented number of brands to address the issue of fiber to-go cups," said Marion Gross, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald's USA. "Collaboration is what we need to truly move the needle, amplify impact and bring solutions to scale quickly."

Up to six winners will enter the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, where they'll gain access to a network of experts, business and technical resources and testing opportunities to ensure these innovations can successfully scale to serve the needs of the industry and maintain the performance standards industry knows and trusts.

The Challenge is just the first stage of the NextGen Consortium's three-year effort. Next, the Circular Business Accelerator, with testing and piloting opportunities, will help solutions get onto the shelf. Further, the Consortium is working with suppliers, recyclers and composters to ensure that the winning solutions can get successfully recovered for the highest value. The Consortium will work together to support the needs of the recycling and composting system, and identify ways to make it easy for consumers to choose the right bin.

"The level of interest we saw in the Challenge demonstrates a real appetite for long-lasting, sustainable packaging solutions," said Kate Daly, Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. "This level of industry collaboration in support of the NextGen Cup Challenge is really exciting, and we look forward to building on this momentum to encourage more innovative solutions. Fully recoverable fiber to-go cups are just the beginning."