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Waste Not
The Freedom Sleeve:
How One Reusable Coffee Sleeve Is Helping Create a Zero-Waste Future

Self-driving cars, solar panels and groundbreaking carbon-capturing technologies are essential tools in combating climate change and propelling the shift towards a more sustainable future, but complex, large-scale solutions aren’t the only ones driving change. New twists on seemingly inconsequential items that we use every day could be just as instrumental in turning the tides on systemic environmental and social issues.

This is the very idea upon which invention company Design by Freedom is built. The startup aims to engage all 300 million Americans around a zero-waste future by redesigning everyday items to be fun, functional and, above all, sustainable. The first item on the company’s to-do list? Create a zero-waste alternative to the traditional coffee sleeve.

Coffee cups have been the focus of numerous zero-waste campaigns, yet coffee sleeves are rarely — if ever — disposed of properly, with 40 million sleeves finding their way into landfill every day in the United States. This constitutes a considerable amount of waste — 2.8 billion pounds of paper and cardboard waste each year to be exact. Additionally, paper and cardboard constitute 28 percent of the garbage found in landfills in the U.S., partially due to mislabeling of cardboard products, signaling a significant problem at both product design and end-of-life stages. Bringing a reusable model to market could drive down these numbers considerably while helping consumers adopt behaviors that support a zero-waste future.

In an effort to eliminate the 14 billion coffee sleeves that enter into waste streams every year, Design by Freedom has developed the Freedom Sleeve, a reusable and 100 percent compostable coffee sleeve made from bio-based materials, for which it has launched an Indiegogo campaign.

Creating Demand for New Product Categories that Involve Unfamiliar Behaviors or Experiences

Hear insights from Dr. Bronner's, Vivobarefoot and more on 'easing people in' to new products (ex: 3D-printed shoes) and formats (ex: refillable liquid soap) that are revolutionizing industries and designing out waste — Tuesday, Oct. 17 at SB'23 San Diego.

While Gupta-Fonner admits that the widespread adoption of reusable coffee mugs would be ideal, many consumers see carrying around a cup as a hassle. The Freedom Sleeve allows consumers to feel like they’re part of the solution without the inconvenience and has real potential to initiate systemic change by altering consumer behavior.

“Our market is an individual who loves coffee, but is not yet ready to carry a coffee cup,” Gupta-Fonner said. “That’s the person we’re targeting with the sleeve and offering them a really mobile, impossible-to-forget solution that they can always keep with them. The intention here is to push this customer type to the next level, which is to carry their own coffee cup.”

The sleeve is usable for over a year and features a bag tag that makes it easy to tote around. It also fits around cups of all sizes, so consumers don’t have to think twice about skipping the standard cardboard sleeve.

The cardboard sleeve industry is a $500 million industry in the United States and it continues to grow. When developing the Freedom Sleeve, Design by Freedom looked at how much traditional sleeves cost coffee retail brands and found that on average, brands spend about $25 per customer per year on cardboard sleeves. The cost of the Freedom Sleeve is comparable, making it a viable option for sustainability-focused companies that are looking for new ways to reduce impacts.

Gupta-Fonner says Design by Freedom is in talks with both small- and large-scale businesses to gauge interest in the Freedom Sleeves and the possibility of integrating it into cafes across the country. While she wasn’t able to reveal the names of potential partners, Gupta-Fonner said that the reception has thus far been positive and has resulted in some “really promising conversations.” The potential to reduce in-store waste and capitalize on new branding opportunities, in particular, have piqued interest.

While the company is currently focused on bringing the Freedom Sleeve to market as efficiently and effectively as possible, Gupta-Fonner says that this is just the beginning for Design by Freedom. As an invention company, the startup intends within the next two to three years to begin bringing one new solution to market per month.

“The cup is next for us. We have some really interesting ideas on how to make a cup that is compostable in your own backyard. We don’t want to use wax or paper — we want to do something completely different. As an invention company, we’re always thinking about what can be done, what is being thrown away and where the next opportunity lies to take things to the next level," she said.

Design by Freedom invites individuals and retailers who are interested in contributing to the company’s zero-waste mission to reach out by visiting or sending email to [email protected]


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