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WeCare Coffee Cup Ecosystem

Reusable coffee cup ecosystem managed by WeCare that facilitates the provision, return and reuse of coffee cups

Photo of Sylvain Emeric

Written by

Why WeCare:

What we found is that people love the idea of the reusable coffee cups but face several challenges in using them:

  • The cups are large and heavy to carry around;
  • Once we have finished the coffee, we would like to dispose the cup;
  • It's easy to forget the cup at home or in the office and therefore, we end up buying take-away coffees; and
  • Cleaning the cup is a pain point and doesn't encourage a frequent reuse.

Therefore, how might we build on the reusable coffee cups, whilst delivering a great experience and making it economically viable? 

What is WeCare:

Updated 31/8: refined value proposition

WeCare proposes a circular system for coffee drinkers, introducing reusable cups with the convenience of disposable cups:

  1. WeCare provides clean reusable coffee cups to cafes who are part of the WeCare network
  2. Customers get their coffee take-away in the WeCare reusable coffee cup and are able to drop-off the dirty coffee cup in any of our collection points (WeCare enhances the coffee experience through the WeCare app: pre-order and payments)
  3. WeCare orchestrates the collection and cleaning of the dirty reusable coffee cups
  4. WeCare orchestrates the re-distribution of the clean reusable coffee cups to cafes that are part of the WeCare network

Updated 31/8: added video

How would WeCare work: 

  • WeCare provides a membership to users so that they are part of the WeCare network and can use and dispose their cups in the system
  • WeCare facilitates the collection of dirty cups from all affiliated vendors (centralised and decentralised models to be tested)
  • Funding through co-branding options (with selected brands) and potential one-off fee for membership.


  • Added value to coffee shop owners in doing the right thing and being able to use a brand
  • Provides greater customer experience as users can maintain their lifestyle in doing the right thing, along with the WeCare app that provides added value services

Potential enhancement to the idea:

  • WeCare coffee cups made of natural waste to provide a complete circular system (partnership) 
  • Traceable coffee-cups to gather data and enhance logistics and operations 
  • Data leveraged as a new asset to develop new services (membership, gamification etc.)


Through our initial pilot, there are a number of things we would like to test and de-risk:

  • Distribution system to collect and re-distribute the cups
  • Infrastructure to clean the cup (decentralised or centralised system)
  • Viable business model (assumptions is that consumers and vendors should not be impacted)
  • Disruption to vendors operating model as it's very industralised and tasks driven
  • Logistical bottlenecks as cups could be taken at vendor A but disposed at vendor B (ie. similar to the bicycle sharing challenges) 

Idea Title


Company / Organization Name



Where are you / your team located?

Australia, Melbourne

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

This idea will prevent small format plastic packaging waste as it gets rid of the take-away cup entirely. The only risk is for the reusable coffee cup to be disposed outside of disposal areas. To mitigate this risk, we are planning to enhance this idea by sourcing a coffee cup made out of coffee grinds or other materials that are made of natural waste.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Case 3: Straws and take-away coffee lids for Anne and Lucas

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

The region of implementation is Melbourne then Australia. Australians waste 1 billion coffee-cups every year

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Potential scaling risks: Logistic bottlenecks: Bicycle-sharing schemes from large cities evidenced a phenomenon of “bottle necks” whereby bicycles tend to accumulate in some drop points. We anticipate the same phenomenon for coffee-cups. Disruption to coffee shop operating model: While operationally simple, the business of selling coffee in a coffee shop, relies on a tight sequence of tasks and is very sensitive to labour cost. Therefore, our system has to be as easy as possible for vendors

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

We will de-risk our idea by piloting it in the Melbourne CBD which is ideal due to its coffee culture. We are looking at a 6-12 months pilot that build a critical mass of 25-50 vendors and 500-1000 engaged users. Pilot deliverables: - Proven economic viability - WeCare established as a brand and attractive asset to identify co-branding options that can support the cost of the infrastructure Goals: - Successful pilot in the Melbourne CBD - Pilot in another Australian city

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Community collaboration organised through TheHakkas in Melbourne.

Tell us about your work experience

The team is a mix of: Engineers, Industrial designers, Food designers, UX designers, Consultants and Experience Strategist

Please describe your legal and organizational structure



Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Sylvain Emeric ,

We have received your Refinement Phase Submission Questions! Just a friendly reminder that the Phase closes tonight, August 31st at 11:30 p.m. PT. so please update your contribution on the platform before the deadline.

Thank you for all your work this Refinement Phase and for being member of the OpenIDEO Community!

Photo of Sylvain Emeric

Thanks Lauren Ito ! I updated part of the contribution on the platform based on latest findings. However, the full details for the Refinement Phase Submission is captured in the form I sent yesterday.

Thank you!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Sylvain!

There are 7 days left in the refinement phase.

If there is key information in the comments on your idea submission, I recommend that you move them to the main body of your idea submission before the cut-off time.

I just want to remind you that the deadline to complete the Refinement Questions via the online submission form is August 31 at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Photo of Sylvain Emeric

Thanks Kate Rushton . Just to confirm: before the deadline, we need to complete the follow-up questions survey AND update our idea as well with refinements we added to them? Does it mean that the refinement we provide as part of the questionnaire needs to also be updated in the idea? Thank you!

Photo of Kate Rushton

I have just sent you an email.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Sylvain!

Welcome to the refinement phase.

There are a few reusable cup solutions in refinement. What USP of this solution would bring large coffee retailers onboard?

How would the pricing model work?

What could you prototype and test in the time available? There are a few ideas from previous challenges that might give you some ideas for prototyping and feedback:

Replate (a nonprofit tech company that matches high quality surplus meals with communities in need) - - was a top idea in our food waste challenge. It has a nice video to show the journey of the food - and -

Employee wellness programs from our food waste challenge - - is a good example of identifying and testing the riskiest assumption with the use of A/B testing

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me by tagging me here (@ followed by my name) or send me an email -

I just want to remind you that the deadline to complete the Refinement Questions via the online submission form is August 31 at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Photo of Daniel Grosso

Hi Sylvain, I've been setting up and trialling a very similar reusable cup system in Perth, Western Australia over the last year. You can find out more here:

I'd love to have a chat with you about your learnings so far and your vision for a workable reusable cup network. My email is

I agree that a reusable cup network needs to be as easy as possible for both the vendors and the cup users. I've been using a polypropylene cup and lid that are both stackable which the vendors I have been working with seem to find convenient both for storage space as well as for maintaining coffee throughput. But I also agree it would be better if the cup were made from the waste products of other processes such as coffee grinds as you suggest.

I've been operating under both a centralised and decentralised washing system. My centralised washing facility provides waste-free services to events and takeaway only coffee shops that don't have their own facilities, as well as rental collection points for organisations. Then the decentralised system for coffee shops who wash the cups themselves is also maintained by the centralised body, i.e. redistribution of cups.

I've also been running under a model of zero customer accountability for the cups. So I haven't implemented any cup tracking as I think it is important to remove as many barriers as possible for people to choose reusable. My mentality is we provide the infrastructure and ensure the cup has a value and the system will sort itself out. There is currently no evidence that the cups end up in landfill or recycling. There is evidence that some customers keep the cup and continue to use it in place of single-use cups, and to that I say great!

I've been struggling with the cobranding issue for a while now. Every coffee shop seems to want to have their own brand on the cup. However, it creates a massive challenge in the redistribution process. I have been playing around with the idea of having iconic local images placed on the cups instead of any brand at all. That way the cups remain communal but can also travel. It could also be a novelty to look up which location your reusable cup has come from. Something that could be developed further anyway!

Thanks for being a part of the solution and I look forward to learning more about your contribution!



Photo of Troy Gardner

do you know how many people drink at the store or take it on the go? Just wondering more detail about keeping the cup.

Starbucks here has cups for sale, but most people are in line expecting a paper cup which they throw the place I was wondering like in cafeterias why glasses aren't just there (for here) or to go, and just washed like they are in cafeterias.

Good higher end smaller throughput cafes use stylish ceramic cups and those are placed in a bin and somehow I've never quite understood the appeal of paper cups for at the place.

Photo of Daniel Grosso

During my surveying I did ask people why they chose a single-use cup when they were sitting in a cafe. Most said they wanted the flexibility to be able to leave whenever they wanted to and some said they just liked the cup. It has become fashionable to be seen with a single-use cup. It is almost a status symbol of someone who is busy and successful.

Selling reusable cups is becoming more and more common in coffee shops. But this model puts all the responsibility back on the consumer to reduce their impact. Businesses will argue that they are just providing what the customers want by offering single-use cups and that they don't want to contribute to producing so much waste. This idea is creating a way in which businesses can be involved and offer another option to the customer.

Where we have been operating this concept the longest at a coffee shop in a park, we have the majority of the customers drink their coffee at the park while walking their dog or watching their children on the playground and then return the cup. But there are people who take them home and bring them back next time. There are also customers who choose a single-use cup because they don't trust themselves to bring the cup back. There are also a small percentage of people who do just keep the cup so they can continue to use it for themselves. At the end of the day, these cups aren't worth much. We place value on these reusable cups because they are often marketed to us in that way and ask us to pay $15-$30 for one. From an impact point of view it is very important that these cups don't end up in landfill or recycling streams. But I say, let's change the marketing to be around community cooperation and the purpose of the cups being to prevent waste to landfill. Let's create the infrastructure for a reusable economy, and get the finances flowing in a way that makes it sustainable. Human beings are just as capable of being cooperative as we are of being selfish. I think its high time we changed the inefficient paradigm around wanting things for ourselves and started thinking about ways we can work together to reduce our impact. And what better way to do that than bringing local businesses and the community together to create a simple solution.

Photo of Andrew

A good suggestion Sylvain. The key seems to be the size of the network, rather like a fax machine analogy, a small network has little value no matter how good the solution.