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CupClub: A Reusable Returnable Food Packaging System

A returnable packaging service designed to hold both hot and cold food or drink helping to reduce single-use plastic packaging by up to 47%.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

CupClub

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a UK registered charity which aims to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design & build a positive future through the framework of a circular economy. Closed Loop Partners Closed Loop Partners is an investment firm focused on building the circular economy. We are reimagining the current linear system, in which billions of dollars are spent annually to landfill valuable commodities, to create circular supply chains that reduce costs, generate revenue, and protect our environment. Return-It An Encorp Pacific (Canada) not-for-profit subsidiary with a mandate is to develop, manage and improve systems to recover used packaging and end-of-life products from consumers and ensure that they are properly recycled and not land-filled or incinerated.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://cupclub.com/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

London

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

London, the capital of England, has a population of 14,257,962 people and a total metropolitan area measuring 8,382 kilometres squared.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

London is the home of founder Safia Qureshi. CupClub was originally developed and incubated as an idea in design agency Studio [D] Tale set-up by Safia Qureshi, before being incorporated separately as a company in 2015. The company launched an MVP trial in 2016 with catering company CH&Co, which has an annual turnover of £300 million, at the Royal College of Art (RCA) across a student population of 3000 whereby CupClub attracted over 47% of all beverage sales in under six (6) weeks.


CupClub is envisioned as a revolutionary, innovative standard bearer for the ethical and sustainable use of packaging within food systems. In this regard, London’s historic role as a centre for innovation as well as the place where many standards are set—such as that of measuring time according to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), also referred to as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)—makes the city an ideal location for this vision.

London has also nurtured some of the visions early and important professional relationships. Connections with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is headquartered not far from London as well as Do The Green Thing, a public service for the planet that uses creativity to tackle climate change that was founded in 2007, have both developed in London. London’s geographical location between cities in Southern California and cities near the East China Sea makes it the idea fulcrum for innovation in practice.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

URBANISATION: NEW CULTURES, NEW COMMUNITIES

London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom, is the most populated city in Western Europe with a total metropolitan area measuring 8,382 kilometres squared (3,236 square miles). This twenty-first century city, which can be traced as far back as the Roman conquest beginning in AD 43 has a population of 14,257,962 people. In this regard, the city has accrued a diverse population that is reflective of the needs of our rapidly urbanising planet. It is thought that the world’s population will likely reach 9 billion people by the year 2045. Coupled with the increasing likelihood that in 2030 two out of three people will be living in an urban environment of our own making, the question of an appropriate food system for the urban environment remains acutely relevant. London also exemplifies the current interpretation of a city for the world’s burgeoning population: the megacity—an urban agglomeration with ten (10) million or more inhabitants. The “mega-” prefix was adopted because historically such large cities were an anomalous feature of urbanism. In 1970 there were a paltry two: New York-Newark, United States of America and Tokyo, Japan. Two decades later, by 1990, they numbered ten. By 2011 they had more than doubled again with 23 cities being considered “mega”. By 2050, there will be more than fifty (50) megacities globally.


ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

The scale of urban centres has increased the scale of food packaging waste. An estimated 600 billion coffee cups are thrown out every year. That’s 600 billion plastic lids and 600 billion pieces of paper coated in plastic insulation, none of which can be recycled. This one product illustrates the problem of packaging within the entire food system, which in turn is affecting the food production cycle by increasing the demand on energy and clean water. The people living in urban spaces are significant users of food packaging and as such they are significant contributors to the food waste system. In this regard, London is a prime example.


TECHNOLOGY AND POLICY

London’s population is also technologically adept. People in London demand and deploy convenience above all else to effectively navigate the demands of a busy metropolis. Although climate change and resilience strategies feature high on people’s personal demands, their adoption is impacted by their ability to be have a low threshold of engagement and convenience. An example of this convenience is the use of Contactless payment systems that use radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) for making secure payments.


FOOD AND BEVERAGE PACKAGING

The growth of urban centres and the globalisation of food systems has meant that the distance food travels from agricultural land is greater. Packaging and containers are a vital component in food systems. Food and beverages are packaged for transportation as well as storage.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

8382

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

14257962

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

FOOD AND BEVERAGE PACKAGING

The most common material used in packaging—plastic—creates a challenge for sustainable food systems. In the future other materials like glass or metals need to compete with plastic for cultural convenience and economic cost during transport, distribution, storage and retail.


PLASTICS

Plastics, organic polymers that can be moulded into various shapes, are very convenient for food packaging because of their lightness and versatility. Plastic containers and packaging give maximum protection against contamination since they preserve and protect the food for longer, minimising the use of preservatives.

Plastics are recyclable and present lower cost and energy consumption during manufacturing, but they are nevertheless pollutants that negatively impact food ecosystems. The most commonly used plastics are:

1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is very resistant to humidity, fats and gases;

2. Polyethylene (including varieties like PET, HDPE, LDPE), which is the first plastic to effectively compete with glass;

3. Polystyrene (PS), which is durable malleable and low cost, is ideal for thermoforming;

4. Cellulose, a biodegradable substance made from vegetable and fungi cell walls, which was the first transparent film used in packaging;

5. Polyamides, a polymer found naturally in wool or synthetically in nylon, which are used for pre-cooked or frozen foods, fish, meat, vegetables and processed meat and cheese.


METALS

Metals, like steel, tin, aluminium, are used for preserving canned foods and beverages. Since it is opaque, metal is best for light sensitive food. Commonly used metals are:

1. Tin-coated steel cans are especially used for food with low acidity (pH);

2. Aluminium cans, which are significantly light, low cost and recyclable, can be used in packaging, bottle closures and wraps and laminates. Unlike steel, aluminium is resistant to corrosion;

3. Aluminium foil, formed by layers of laminated aluminium, which is a highly flexible product that is commonly used to preserve or protect food in domestic settings and not commercially since it wrinkles, rips and marks easily.


GLASS

Glass is inert and impermeable to gases. Although glass is fragile, heavy, risks breakage when frozen and requires a lot of energy to manufacture, it is a completely neutral oxygen barrier when in contact with food and is easily reused and recyclable. The food industry uses more than 75 billion glass containers a year, chiefly for wines, juices, baby food and soft drinks.


WOOD, CARDBOARD AND PAPERS

Wood derivative recyclable but demand a lot of water during manufacturing, thereby negatively impacting food ecosystems. The most commonly used are:

1. Paper, a cheap lightweight material, which is perfect for printing. In combination with materials such as plastic or paraffin, paper’s sensitivity to moisture can be addressed;

 2. Cardboard, composed of several superimposed layers of paper, which is thicker, harder and more resistant than paper is mainly used as boxes.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

URBANISATION: NEW CULTURES, NEW COMMUNITIES

The reusable packaging solution is designed to reduce the impact of urbanisation and consumerism by providing packaging-as-a-service, as an alternative to purchasing single-use packaging that is readily disposed of and would otherwise enter the waste stream. CupClub is a service is designed to be circular: all product packaging is created for multi-use.

The system is designed to address two (2) categories: ‘Cup' is the first product category that belongs to the 'Club' system, which has been designed and optimised for returnable packaging. In this regard, CupClub demonstrates a proof-of-concept intended for broad use in food packaging systems thereby changing the habits of consumers, creating a sharing economy model for packaging, where the emphasis is to move away from ownership to universal accessibility.


ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Presently the reusable packaging has been designed using the top five most recyclable plastics; Polypropylene Plastic (PP) for the containers and Low-Density Polyethylene for the lids. All products are designed for hyper-durability, allowing them to be used across the supply chain for a minimum of 250 uses. Every product is integrated with RFID technology, which connects each product to the system’s management platform. The vision for 2050 includes using highly engineered bioplastics.

With every cleaning cycle, reusable packaging uses only half of the carbon dioxide (C02) compared to disposable cups. This figure includes polyethylene (PE) lined paper cups, Styrofoam cups and polylactic acid (PLA) compostable cups. Each CupClub product is 100% recyclable.


TECHNOLOGY AND POLICY OF FOOD WASTE SYSTEMS

The returnable packaging system includes Internet of Things (IoT) software that manages the movement of food containers and lids. Products are dispatched from the CupClub hub in cases to be delivered directly to brands, retailers, businesses. This eliminates the need for outer packaging such as, boxes, plastic sleeves, which are commonly found on single-use packaging. Cases are received, containers and lids are removed and stocked at cafes, canteens, restaurants, self-serve coffee/tea points, quick-service restaurants and grocery stores ready to be served. Once used, consumers return the dirty packaging back to the cases and the cases are collected at the end of the day by CupClub. With every collection, CupClub provides fresh stock for the next day, through a reverse logistics process.

 Using technology to track all its packaging products across a well-managed operations model, allows CupClub to considerably reduce the effects of consumerism and consumption by reduction in use of materials, C02, energy and water, addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12. The CupClub service is designed to create positive behaviour change to benefit the environment, by responding with a convenient solution that is customer friendly with a core circular economy strategy.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

ECONOMY OF REUSE

Urban agglomerations—large cities and towns—are inevitably guaranteed to define 2050. These human settlements are efficient at housing large number of people, but they are also responsible for perpetuating the wastelands defined by landfills or gyres of plastic and marine debris particles in the oceans around the world. CupClub envisions a future not built on waste: A future essentially without bins. In this future food packaging is no longer reliant on contaminants, rather the system becomes part and parcel of an economy of reuse.


SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

By reducing the burden on limited resources like clean water and energy, reusable food packaging systems can contribute to the sustainable management of food ecosystems that rely on access to clean water and energy. In this regard, the effective management of food packaging waste creates a shared responsibility for sustainable food systems that includes food producers and consumers in an effort for a non-linear, environmentally conscious process designed with the climate emergency in mind.


CONVENIENCE AND COMMUNITY

According to the United Nations, by July 2018 127 nations around the world had banned or taxed plastic shopping bags. Reusable packaging is the next step in stemming the proliferation of single-use plastic globally by reintroducing circular economies to food systems like home milk delivery services. In the United Kingdom around 1977, ninety per cent (90%) of the milk consumed. Forty years later, in 2017 this figure had dropped to three per cent (3%). CupClub seeks to reintroduce this sustainable distribution model by reflecting on chaiwalas, street vendors in Indian cities that have maintained a culture of serving tea in a small glasses or unglazed clay teacups (kulhar) that are communally distributed amongst vendors. The future envisioned redefines our dependence on single-use plastic resins in favour of products that work in concert with natural lifecycles.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The CupClub vision originally developed by Safia Qureshi envisions a reusable packaging economy for 2050 that has reduced the impact of urbanisation and consumerism. Originally seen as an alternative to the single-use packaging that is presently readily disposed of, CupClub is forecast to develop into a multi-stakeholder, multi-use food service system that directly impacts the global waste stream and inspires collective action.

ENVIRONMENT

The CupClub vision focuses on urban centres and their impact on increased food packaging waste. An estimated 600 billion coffee cups are thrown out every year. That’s 600 billion plastic lids and 600 billion pieces of paper coated in plastic insulation, none of which can be recycled. This one product illustrates the problem of packaging within the entire food system, which in turn is affecting the food production cycle by increasing the demand on energy and clean water. The people living in urban spaces are significant users of food packaging and as such they are significant contributors to the food waste system. In this regard, London is a prime example.

The present-day and future ambitions of the CupClub vision is to considerably reduce C02 production, energy and water use addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12. The CupClub service is designed to create positive behaviour change to benefit the environment, by responding with a convenient solution that is customer friendly with a core circular economy strategy. By 2050, CupClub envisions a significant reduction in waste disposal and a new economy of reuse that continually addresses the wastelands defined by landfills or gyres of plastic and marine debris particles in the oceans around the world. In this future, food packaging is no longer reliant on contaminants, rather the system promotes a future not built on waste: A future essentially without bins that safeguards natural water and energy systems for future food systems.

Presently the reusable packaging has been designed using the top five most recyclable plastics; Polypropylene Plastic (PP) for the containers and Low-Density Polyethylene for the lids. All products are designed for hyper-durability, allowing them to be used across the supply chain for a minimum of 250 uses. Every product is integrated with RFID technology, which connects each product to the system’s management platform. The vision for 2050 includes using highly engineered bioplastics.

With every cleaning cycle, reusable packaging uses only half of the carbon dioxide (C02) compared to disposable cups. This figure includes polyethylene (PE) lined paper cups, Styrofoam cups and polylactic acid (PLA) compostable cups. Each CupClub product is 100% recyclable.


DIETS

The shift towards reusable packaging will have a marginal impact on people’s diet. However, the inherent interconnectedness of the rise in plastics and the rise in low nutrient, highly preserved food is not disregarded. The assumption that present-day packaging is beneficial to healthy food is debatable. Therefore, reusable packaging like the dabbawalla service—a tiffin lunchbox delivery and return system in India, especially in Mumbai that delivers hot lunches from homes and restaurants to people at work—has the potential to promote healthier lifestyles.


ECONOMICS

The CupClub vision for 2050 is a communal, social enterprise that will maintain headquarters in London. The shared economic benefit will be nurtured with franchised City Operator Partners in global metropolitan areas across the world, including San Francisco, Vancouver, New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Madrid and Berlin. By 31 July 2030, the business model will service 750 corporate and retail customers, 20 City Operators Partners globally and over 12 million daily users worldwide.

The service is able to achieve this global impact by developing a blueprint across retail customers in London before expanding to the United States of America and mainland Europe. The service model blueprint will include expansion across airports, corporate offices, universities and retail outlets, with early customers in the next five (5) years including Heathrow Airport in London, as well as Starbucks and the Coca Cola Company.

CupClub promotes a future economic model that includes small-scale food vendors such as chaiwalas—street vendors in Indian cities that have maintained a culture of serving tea in a small glasses or unglazed clay teacups (kulhar)—as well as large global corporations like the Coca-Cola Company—currently dependant on single-use plastic bottles to distribute its product globally.


CULTURE

CupClub is currently a returnable packaging service for hot and cold drinks that utilises proprietary software to manage distribution of drinking cups and lids to service brands, retailers and businesses. Launched in 2018, CupClub provides six (6) standard size cup products: 8oz, 12oz, 16oz, 20oz, ½ pint and full pint-sized cups. Continued research and development into new packaging product categories for on-the-go food and drinks will facilitate growth and wider cultural change.

CupClub simple system of receipt and delivery of containers and lids that are removed and stocked at cafes, canteens, restaurants, self-serve coffee/tea points, quick-service restaurants and grocery stores is expected to include BottleClub—a returnable packaging service for bottles that utilises proprietary software to manage distribution of bottles to service brands, retailers and businesses—by 2022. At this time, BottleClub will provide three (3) standard bottle products: small bottles, medium bottles and large bottles for retail and domestic consumers.

The vision expands the system of reusable packaging to include BoxClub—a returnable packaging service for food boxes that utilises proprietary software to manage distribution of food boxes and lids to service brands, retailers and businesses— by 2025. BoxClub will provide seven (7) standard food box products: ranging from small food pot, large food pots, soup pots, small bento boxes to large bento boxes, sandwich boxes and extra-large food boxes.


TECHNOLOGY

Presently CupClub is actively engaged in using technology to develop innovative and sustainable packaging solutions. The recent Sustainability Report submitted by CupClub to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) highlights the following social and environmental advantages of its circular system:

1. A 12oz polyethylene (PE) lined cup with lid has a 96%-101% higher life cycle impact (CO2e) than the CupClub service. Based upon a 1% recovery and recycling rate;

2. A 12oz PLA lined cup with a PLA lid has an 87 -88% higher life cycle impact (CO2e) than the CupClub service. Based upon a 1% recovery and recycling/composting rate;

3. With current UK recycling rates of ~1% for single use paper cups this would need to increase to a recycling rate of 82-84% to equal CupClub’s environmental impact;

4. A CupClub cup needs to be used 72 times to achieve an environmental benefit over 12oz PE lined single-use cup.

5. A single use expanded polystyrene (EPS) 12oz cup with lid has a 38% higher carbon footprint than the CupClub service.

6. After 800 uses the ceramic cup would have a comparable impact to CupClub and has to be used ~2,000 times before it outperforms the CupClub service.


Continued research and development will help make the vision of a future in which food systems are less dependence on plastic resins possible. The investment into Internet of Things (IoT) technology will help address the vision of a community of shared interest that engages people around the world who are accustomed to digital interfaces. The cloud based IoT software is the primary mechanism for the management of returnable packaging products offering an interface for product stock management, product tracking, optimisation of collections and deliveries for carriers and cases.


POLICY

The CupClub is keen to leverage policy changes at local and state level to reducing the burden on limited resources like clean water and energy by focusing on reusable food packaging systems can contribute to the sustainable management of food ecosystems that rely on access to clean water and energy. In this regard, the effective management of food packaging waste creates a shared responsibility for sustainable food systems that includes food producers and consumers in an effort for a non-linear, environmentally conscious process designed with the climate emergency in mind.

According to the United Nations, by July 2018 127 nations around the world had banned or taxed plastic shopping bags. Reusable packaging is the next step in stemming the proliferation of single-use plastic globally by reintroducing circular economies to food systems like home milk delivery services. In the United Kingdom around 1977, ninety per cent (90%) of the milk consumed. Forty years later, in 2017 this figure had dropped to three per cent (3%). CupClub seeks to reintroduce this sustainable distribution model similar to home milk delivery or chaiwalas.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners
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Team (6)

Mats's profile
Mats Linder

Role added on team:

"Dr. Mats Linder is a Project Manager from Stockholm, Sweden at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), where he works with "New Plastics Economy Initiative" and especially focuses on innovations that can create systemic change in the plastics industry."

Safia's profile
Safia Qureshi

Role added on team:

"Safia Qureshi is an award-winning Architect, innovation designer and educator. Born in London, UK, she launched Studio [D] Tale in 2015 to build projects with high social and environmental impact. She then incubated and launched CupClub™ - returnable packaging service for drinks in 2016."

CupClub's profile
Kate's profile
Kate Daly

Role added on team:

"Kate Daly is a Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners where she leads the Center for the Circular Economy. The Center is a hub for business acceleration, investment, and research in packaging, food, the built environment, electronics and apparel & textiles and seeks to advance the transition from a linear take, make, waste economy to a restorative one in which materials are shared, re-used, and continuously cycled."

Daniel's profile
Daniel Liswood

Role added on team:

"Daniel Liswood is the Director of the NextGen Consortium at Closed Loop Partners based in Mountain View, California. He has experience advancing corporate sustainability programs and climate change mitigation solutions with Fortune 500 clients, real estate owners and investment managers, NGOs, and local and state governments."

Maxwell's profile
Maxwell Mutanda

Role added on team:

"Maxwell Mutanda is a pluridisciplinary artist/research/designer whose uses data visualisation and architectural practice to investigate the role of globalisation, environmental protection, as well as technological and demographic change on the built environment. He is a cofounder of Studio [D] Tale, a multidisciplinary design research firm."

Attachments (1)

CupClub Sustainability Report 2018.pdf

A comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of 12oz CupClub cup and lid. This report outlines a comparative analysis of the environmental impacts of CupClub against alternative disposable single use coffee cups and a reusable ceramic cup.

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