Closed Loop Partners announces winners of NextGen Cup Challenge

Starbucks, McDonald’s and other industry leaders partner in precompetitive collaboration to find innovative cup solutions.

The NextGen Consortium, convened by New York-based Closed Loop Partners, has announced 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 or compostable cup.

After a four-month review process by a group of judges, including NextGen Consortium business leaders, as well as experts in recycling, composting and packaging, the challenge narrowed the nearly 500 submissions from more than 50 countries down to 12 winners, Closed Loop Partners reports in a news release.

Closed Loop Partners reports that these 12 winning solutions—broadly categorized into 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,” says John Kelly, senior vice president 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 following groups are the 12 winners of the challenge in three different categories.

Category One: Innovative Cup Liners

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

  • C.E.E.R. SCHISLER, France, created a 100 percent paper cup that is home compostable and recyclable.
  • Colombier Group, Netherlands, Finland, created a recyclable and compostable barrier for paperboard cups.
  • Footprint US, Richburg, South Carolina, created cups, lids and straws that are fully formed fiber-based solutions, with an aqueous-based coating that is recyclable and compostable.
  • Kotkamills Oy, Finland, created plastic-free, recyclable and compostable cupstock material that can be processed into cups at existing cup making machines.
  • PTT MCC Biochem Co. Ltd., Thailand, created a coated paper cup that is recyclable and home compostable.
  • Solenis LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, created a barrier coating that is recyclable and compostable.
  • Sun Chemical Corp., New Jersey, created inks and coatings that are recyclable and compostable.

  • WestRock Corp., Norcross, Georgia, created a recyclable and compostable paperboard solution to cups.

Category Two: New Materials 

These companies are using cutting edge, plant-based materials in their cups so that they are compostable.

  • Solublue Ltd., United Kingdom, created plant-based, food grade and nontoxic products that biodegrade after use.

Category Three: Reusable Cup Service Models 

The cups made by these companies aren’t single-use; they just keep cycling, remaining in service by harnessing the power of technology and design.

  • CupClub, United Kingdom, operates a returnable cup ecosystem, providing a service for drinks. Think bike sharing, but for cups.
  • reCup GmbH, Germany, operates a deposit system for reusable cups. Rent its cup and return it to any participating partner shop. No cleaning of the cup or carrying around required.
  • Revolv, Indonesia, Hong Kong (China), operates a deposit-based platform for smart, reusable beverage packaging, connecting its cups—and third-party products—to internet of things technologies.

According to Closed Loop Partners, the NextGen Challenge winner solutions are advancing the transition to a more circular economy where materials are continuously cycled and reliance on raw materials is reduced. “By working across the entire value chain and engaging key stakeholders, winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge are tackling a complex problem in a holistic way, sending valuable material back into the supply chain - benefiting people, the planet, and businesses,” says Erin Simon, director, sustainability R&D, World Wildlife Fund.

The challenge is just the first stage of the NextGen Consortium’s three-year effort. Next, the NextGen 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. Closed Loop Partners reports that 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,” says 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.”

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