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Composatble cup with liner: made from the waste generated by McDonalds and Starbucks product production

a cup consisting of a compostable exterior and foil liner which is made from potato starch, coffee grounds and wheat stalks

Photo of El Tong
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Idea Title

The Virtuous Circle recoverable and recyclable cup

Idea Summary

The idea is to use the waste produced in making french fries, coffee and burger buns to create compostible cup 'sheaths' that are coupled with an aluminum liner (made from coke cans) to be recoverable

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

this shows how the two parts of the cup work together

Compostable cups and receptacles already exist but in many circumstances the fibre used compromises safety and customer experience (tea in a starch cup is just wrong and without a liner it's just too hot!).  Our proposal is to create a two part cup which has a compostable exterior and a metal/foil liner.   

Our ideas emerged from considering that both Starbucks and McDonalds already create lots of compostable food waste in their production process (coffee grounds, coffee plants, wheat stalks and potato peelings).  We believe that these materials can be collected at source and then can be manufactured close to the source in to  100% compostable cups which are then provided to stores in the same shipments as the food products (reducing travel emissions!).  

These could also include seeds to allow new plants to be grown.

The metal liners could be manufactured from used soft drinks cans and sent to store separately.  In store, staff could assemble the two parts of the cup before serving drinks.

The customers can then separate them before recycling the metal and placing the compostable element in to compost bins or even general waste.

Cups disposed of in store could be separated with the compostable half being returned to farmers for growing crops.

We would also like to include RFID tags in any pilot scheme to track where the cups actually travel to and to monitor their journey through the waste disposal and recycling systems to allow for iteration of the product.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Cup Liner

How is your concept recoverable?

The cup divides in to two parts. The metal liner is globally widely recyclable and can be recycled in store or at home to be used again. The compostable exterior will biodegrade. this material can be recovered and used as compost to grow food/coffee. Or if it does end up in general waste, will disintegrate and return to the earth.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

We have considered the circular economy in terms of using waste already generated by both Starbucks and Mcdonalds to make the cups. We've also considered being able to make the compostable exterior cups close to the source of the waste plant materials....therefore reducing emissions in transportation.

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?

All could be targeted as disposal of cups in these materials is universal. However it may be beneficial to start in the region with the biggest consumption of the current disposable cups.

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

All customers of both Starbucks and McDonalds. When considering users we discussed how Starbucks and McDonalds have very different demographic appeal and therefore our idea needed to address people who may not be able to 'bring their own' reusable cup and should include hot and cold drinks.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

These are literally the ideas of some attendees of an Open Ideo session. therefore we would need to partner with R&D facilities who work with both metal and plant based materials to develop some prototypes to test on our target audience.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Sustainability and Recoverability

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

We are a collection of people interested in innovation and sustainability

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

Sustainability and reduction of waste is such a pressing issue that receiving funding for an accelerator will help to get the product to market in a way which greatly reduces waste. Our goal would be to create a robust prototype leading to a pilot with the Sponsor Organisations. Success would be having sufficient user feedback and technical evidence to allow a full roll out of the new cups in a country, followed by a region.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of El Tong

Hi, that’s a good observation. We considered the point about the cup holding liquid. Which is why our cup has a liner made of recoverable aluminium. This should be clear from our description. This would allow liquid to be held for long periods of time and when the customer finishes they place they separate the liner and outer cup on disposable into the respective recycling bins.

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