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Condiment Dispensing Conveyor

A machine that dispenses condiments into compostable cups rather than single-use plastic containers.

Photo of Paul Hicks
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Condiment Dispensing Machine

The condiment dispenser in its simplest form would be a manual one that employees would fill or have out for customers to fill themselves. They already do this at some restaurants, but the novelty would be using compostable cups to cut down on plastic waste. 

The next step would be to automate the process. Integrate the condiment dispenser into the POS (Point Of Sale/cash register) system so when a condiment is ordered, the condiments would be automatically dispensed in cups and staged for loading into customers' orders. A similar system is already in use in a lot of fast food restaurant for automatically filling drink orders in their drive-thrus. Condiments could be delivered in large plastic bags for easy refilling or reusable plastic food-grade buckets and will require the dispenser to be topped up manually. I think that a bag would be more convenient and safe, but could have an incremental increase in plastic waste if not properly recycled.


Here is a quick overview of how the system would work:

Customer places an order for some chicken nuggets with ranch and barbecue sauce

The POS system sends the order to the condiment dispenser and two compostable cups are released onto a conveyor belt

The conveyor belt moves the first cup under the nozzles for the respective sauces and the sauce is dispensed into the cups

The cups are then capped* and loaded into the customer's bag

The customer enjoys their chicken nuggets with their delicious sauces

*I think it may be difficult to cap the condiment cups with a machine as they are notoriously finicky so this stage could be easily done by hand which is how they do drink orders in the restaurants with the automated drink systems.


Ronald Reagan famously once said, "If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it." I think the next step comes in the form of policy change. A tax on non-compostable, single-use serveware would help to curb a lot of plastic waste and help to get a lot of businesses on board. The addition of an initial subsidy on compostable serveware could also help businesses jump on board faster.

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Photo of Lauren Ito
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Paul Hicks thanks for joining this challenge with an interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

If you are on LinkedIn, you might want to join the Circular Design Guide group - https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8585051. This group is about design & the circular economy. It's run jointly by IDEO and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Excited to learn more about your idea!