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Cup sharing

Decreasing the use of fiber cups by introducing a convenient rental system for multiple-use cups

Photo of Ekaterina Egorova
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Idea Title

Cup sharing

Idea Summary

Decrease or eliminate the offering of single-use fiber cups in coffee shops and restaurants and raise awareness about the fiber cup problem among consumers.

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


We gathered a team of 18 people with diverse professional backgrounds, many of them experts in the topics of recycling, ecology, industrial design, and material design. Series of observations in Moscow's cafes and restaurants were done and included brief but insightful conversations with consumers.

One of the main findings of our research was that even environmentally conscious people struggle with the responsible use of non-biodegradable materials like fiber cups. Using your own mug was found to be inconvenient as it requires washing and remembering to take it with you from home or at the end of a workday. For example, one of our respondents said: "I do have such multiple-use mug somewhere at home - I stopped using it after I forgot to wash it a few times and now it stinks", while many others shared the same or similar concerns and stories.

The concept

To answer the challenge of more convenient and responsible on-the-go container challenge we came up with the idea of a machine that rents out multiple-use cups.

The rental process:

  • Download an app on your phone, fill in your details and add a credit/debit card to make deposit payments 
  • Choose a subscription plan among the following ones:
  1. "Once in a while" - when you seldom visit coffee shops or prefer enjoying your drink inside and only take away once in a while. With this scenario, the deposit payment happens on a case-by-case basis.
  2. "3 times a week" - goes by its name. You have 3 pre-paid rentals a week. If you go with more, you are automatically upgraded to the next one.
  3. "Every day" - you pay once and have unlimited rentals per month (provided that you regularly return the cup).

  • Now, when you need a cup, you:
  1. Locate the nearest rental machine OR use one in a coffee shop that participates in this programme.
  2. Use the app on your phone to get your rental cup (deposit is withdrawn automatically according to the selected plan).
  3. Pick up the cup

  • When you need to return the cup, you simply drop it in a nearby rental machine located conveniently on your way to public transport, close to office centers, or inside coffee shops. You have several days to do so or the cup becomes fully yours and the deposit is taken away from your account.

Maintenance and washing:

  • There has to be a service company that takes care of the machines if they break.
  • When it comes to what and how cleans the cups, we have two ideas we consider: 
  1. We wash the cup directly inside the machine. The engineering part is more difficult with that approach.
  2. The maintenance team collects used cups from the machine and washing happens at a dedicated facility
  3. Machines are only installed in form of dispensers inside coffee shops and restaurants, and the business is responsible for appropriate washing and loading of clean cups into a dispenser.

Testing prototypes

We showed this prototype and spoke to an owner of a coffee shop, a barista in another coffee shop, and 6 people who take away drinks (some often, some seldom).

Coffee shop owner and barista both agreed that this service could be tested in small independent coffee shops and that they will be able to give an up to 20% discount on coffee just because this will eliminate much hustle with buying, storing, and dealing with fiber cups when serving a customer.

Consumers all spoke about the need of extra convenience to make sure these machines are located on their way to/from work (next to big business centers with lots of offices, next to public transport etc). Another concern was hygiene - they are worried about the cleanliness of those cups after they are washed from previous use.

Finally, all everyone agreed that although a good idea, it will need some informational support because the problem behind those fiber cups is known to few. And this is where other ideas (like this one) can be helpful.

Next steps

We need to find several coffee shops who would allow us to test this idea.

We would also need to find and buy appropriate cups which would withstand multiple uses and be convenient both for take-away and at the table consumption.

Along with these activities, we need to raise awareness about the problem at least among the clients of those coffee shops who agree to cooperate with our next test.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Reusable System
  • Alternative Delivery System

How is your concept recoverable?

Eliminate the need to use fiber cup or any single use beverage container.

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

The solution could be realized in big cities in different countries and depends on the infrastructure.

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

The core user group are people living in big cities with hectic lifestyles. They often forget their reusable cups (mugs) at home or at work or forget to wash them on time. But to make a fullscale transformation of their take-away behavior we need to raise awareness about the fiber-cup problem among those people, so other solutions will be required to do that work. Coffee shops are also our key stakeholders and clients, as they seek to both decrease costs (and fiber cups are relatively expensive) and gain an impression of sustainable business.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Prototyping

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

- We need to think through the process of washing these cups and make sure we can reach the cost-effectiveness and ecology-effectiveness there (i.e. compare the footprints made by washing the new cups and by using the fiber cups) - We need to find out the right material and shape for the multiple-use cup (ideally this should be a bio-degradable material)

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Fundraising / Finance

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

There are 6 of us mentioned here, but we drew inspirations from many others who joined our first October meeting in Moscow. Collectively we represent diverse backgrounds and share many things in common, thoughtfulness about nature being just one.

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.

Funding will help us at later stages when we will be ready to manufacture first cup dispensers. Raising awareness about this solution by gaining a top idea status will also be helpful in our negotiations with local coffee shops.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)

Hi Ekaterina Egorova , Achieving Food System Vision goals will be easy if me can create a network with you.

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