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Cup d'Etat

Circular ecosystem of reusable thermally insulated cups while mobilizing the community to maintain a collect-clean-distribute infrastructure

Photo of Wei Liang Chua
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Idea Title

Revolutionizing the Beverage Cup Experience

Idea Summary

A circular ecosystem utilizing reusable, thermally insulated, and trackable cups that incentivizes communities to contribute to and adopt sustainable practices with ease.

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

First product design

The idea is to build a profitable circular economy model connecting beverage shops and consumers through a convenient and trackable set of reusable thermally insulated cups. This system has the potential to dramatically reduce the volume of single use cups being used. The current alternative of carrying a reusable coffee mug around is inconvenient. The Cup d’Etat system circumvents this problem by enabling members to pick up their drinks in a reusable mug and conveniently drop it off, once they are done. This sharing system is complimented by add-on services which benefit both the beverage stores’ and consumers’ convenience, financial spending and environmental footprint.

For the user, the first step is to subscribe and purchase a customized lid. Individualized lids address potential user concerns surrounding hygiene; it allows for greater emotional attachment to give a personalized feel and identify the user as a recognizable sustainability promoting advocate. Cafes will be provided with a sufficient amount of reusable cups to meet the consumers’ needs throughout the system.

Each lid is equipped with a QR code connected to our smartphone app, the user simply orders through the app which enables the cafe to prepare their beverage ahead of time in a thermally insulated cup. The customer places their lid to complete the purchase and the system places a small deposit from the user’s account. The unique personal lid thereby creates a traceable identity for the user that also serves as an agnostic loyalty card for all participating cafes, enabling the user to participate in bonus programs and discounts without subscribing to each store's individual reward program. Once the customer has consumed their drink, the lid is detached and the cup is returned to a conveniently located collection bin or participating cafe. To roll out return bin infrastructure, we plan to explore corporate sponsorship to help cushion costs in return for publicity and marketing on the bin surface. Once returned, the cup is automatically recognized by the system, which refunds the user their deposit.

To incentivize participating stores, Cup d’Etat offers compensation to collect and wash the required amount of cups for re-use from nearby drop-off stations. Leveraging well-established shared transportation services like Uber/Lyft/Kiwi along with opportunistic work platforms (e.g. TaskRabbit/ WorknGo) and local city services, cups can be transported and distributed as appropriate to match supply with demand. Small financial incentivizes set and promoted to users by our system will ensure that dirty cups are transported to the cafe where they are needed for the next use. This removes the need for a centralized cleaning facility while maximizing the use of existing dishwashing machines in cafes. Stores responsible for washing will be stringently vetted and assessed based on their credentials to enforce a high quality of cleanliness.

Additionally, the system provides data analytics services to monitor cup traffic to ensure constant flow and adequacy of supply at stores. These insights are especially beneficial for smaller cafes who do not have the resources to employ sophisticated business planning tools. Future applications encompass prediction tools for expected customer numbers in a given store and individualizing the coffee experience for consumers based on their preferences.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the reusable cups model can be further extended to other products such as convenience store soda bottles, gym protein shaker bottles, takeaway boxes or even supermarket packaging.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Cup Lids
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

We adopt a circular ecosystem hence our cups are reusable and will be collected, washed and redistributed. Cup collection infrastructure will be formed by a network of partner cafes and collection stations to be located within densely populated areas.

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

Our concept takes advantage of the circular economy to replace single use items with reusable cups that are circulated between cafes and consumers. Re-usability often incurs indirect environmental concerns such as the water used to clean the cups and transportation to redistribute the clean cups. However, Cup d’Etat plans to minimize these issues by utilizing existing infrastructure of dishwashers around the area and working with ridesharing apps Uber/Lyft to assist with redistribution.

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

Our first small scale pilot program will be on UC Berkeley campus, a dense, but manageable area. As graduate students, we can easily access campus resources, which makes it an ideal location to test the program. This will help create the first batch of early adopters. Once we have obtained sufficient feedback from the pilot program, we would look to widen the geography and roll out across different cities in the US before looking to international expansion.

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

Our target market is the everyday consumer who uses single use beverage cups. By creating a circular system for reusable thermal cups, we provide convenience and value-add to make it easy for consumers to adopt sustainable practices while creating identity as part of a wider movement. A mobile app will be developed to track cup usage and could potentially act as a store-agnostic loyalty program. The platform also benefits our network of cafes by providing them with data on consumption behavior which may not be widely available to small shops. The system also lets them get greater ROI on their dishwasher and provides greater publicity that they are doing their part for the environment.

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?

Our near term goal is to gather requirements from stores and users to finalize design on the prototype. A key research would be to conduct small experiments with different types of cup designs/products to understand user behavior and identify best product-market fit. Other challenges include finding partnerships with coffee chains and local cafes to build out a potential store network. This would help with product design and also better understanding the software integration and data collection processes. Setting out adequate collection station infrastructure in a wider geography would be a later stage challenge which we will explore looking for corporate sponsorship through their corporate sustainability initiatives.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping

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

Diverse in backgrounds (computer science, engineering, business) and united by a common vision, our team of 4 Berkeley students strives to unleash the potential of technology to build a new kind of business that reduces the need for single use cups.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?

United States

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

Having established our hypotheses about a reusable cup system, we would greatly benefit from Consortium Partners and their knowledge about beverage stores’ and consumers’ needs and preferences. A potential funding would enable us to develop first prototypes, build up a test infrastructure and iterate our model. Throughout these next steps, we define success as seeing stores and customers employing our solution, actively promoting it and becoming part of the coffee cup revolution.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carlos Rodriguez Herrero

People want the things in an easy and simply way, they are lazy.
For now your target is the everyday consumer who uses single use beverage cups that is also compromised with the environment, so you have to find more value in order to open that target, the key is inside your bonus programs and rewards. You have to give them a huge value that make them not care about taking the mug back to the collection points. In my personal case, I buy the coffee in my way to the university, that is not the same for comming back, so I need a big reward if I have to replan my day in order to taking back the mug, something that means walking more. (I know that you will have many collecting points, but the customers will still having to adapt theirselves)
People also love contests, so you can think something related with that. (each coffe that you take gives you more possibilites in the contest)
And you can also create a kind of stadistic that shows to the customer how many resources is he saving for the environment, like water, petrol, etc.

I really like the proyect, we need more of this kind of iniciatives. I hope the best for you guys!

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