- cr: Closed Loop

Zero-waste coffee cup program launches in the Bay Area

It's hoped the pilot will eventually lead to a sustainable cup solution for the likes of McDonald's and Starbucks

30w ago

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More often than not these days, our to-go coffees come tinged with the bitter taste of guilt. We produce a staggering 264 billion paper cups each year, and only some of them are recyclable. The vast majority end up in landfill.

But this week sees the roll-out of an exciting new scheme that aims to tackle this wasteful situation.

Independent coffee shops in the Bay Area, California, have started testing a variety of waste-free and ‘smart’ reusable coffee cups.

It’s part of a project called the NextGen Cup Challenge, a global competition which saw 12 incubators working to find a zero waste cup solution that could be used at scale. Two of the successful companies in the competition were CupClub and Muuse (their cups are pictured in the below tweet).

If these pilots are successful, it’s hoped it will lead to a recyclable or reusable cup that could be used by large chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks.

In San Francisco and Palo Alto, coffee shops will try reusable cups which have chips and tracking codes. Customers can return their smart cup to any participating shop or drop-off point. The cups will then be collected and sanitized.

From next month, coffee shops in Oakland will use fully recyclable single-use cups. These won’t have the plastic liners which make many cups difficult to recycle.

"As we strive to build a more circular economy in which we design out waste, unique partnerships are essential," says Kate Daly, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners, which manages the NextGen project. The project’s founding partners are Starbucks and McDonald’s, with other partners including The Coca-Cola Company, Yum Brands, Nestlé and Wendy's.

"We know finding a more sustainable cup solution will continue to require partnership and innovative thinking," says Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks. "The ongoing work from the NextGen Cup Consortium provides valuable insights and learnings for all the members, us included, as we continue to explore a variety of ways to better manage our waste and reduce our environmental footprint."

"We're excited to see many of the winning ideas become potential solutions that can be tested in a customer-facing environment," says Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, McDonald's North America. "Finding a cup that can be scaled will require continued innovation, testing and honing of solutions, so these pilots are an important step forward on that journey."

Late last year, the Nestle-owned coffee chain Blue Bottle pledged that all its US cafes will be zero waste by the end of 2020. The company is piloting reusable cups which users can get with a “modest deposit” which they then return to the cafe for cleaning.

Which would you prefer: reusable cup or fully recyclable cup?

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