OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Cup Sharing Program

A one-for-all cup sharing ecosystem that connects consumers with green initiatives to merchants

Photo of Jiaye Pan
3 3

Written by

Idea Title

Cup Republic

Idea Summary

Our solution is an app-based reusable coffee cup sharing program with design features in the cup itself and the circulating system to facilitate the efficient and continuing reuse of coffee cups.

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

Our solution is essentially a reusable coffee cup sharing program, with innovative design features in the cup itself and the circulating system to facilitate the efficient and continuing reuse of coffee cups. The program is designed to replace the disposable to-go plastic/paper cups with ones that truly minimizes environmental footprints. The program’s target customers are white-collar workers who are frequent coffee drinkers, and have fixed working locations.

Our coffee cup unit comprises the reusable cup body, disposable lid, and straw if needed. The cup body is designed in a way that can be easily stacked and stored just like the traditional disposable cup. Material is scratch resistant, detergent resistant, durable and suitable for hot and cold beverages. IoT information is embedded in the cup body by laser engraved QR code or embedded RFID chip, which can be identified by mobile devices (e.g. cellphone) or stationary devices. The coffee cups are the same, however different companies (i.e. Starbucks, MacDonald’s) can make their brand distinctions through disposable lids of different colors and/or different logos.

Our enrollment process is simple: download our app and register a new account, and then the customer has the choice to link it with various coffee shop membership programs or Alibaba account. The customer has to pay a small deposit fee or waive the fee through high Zhima Credit score (credit information service offered by Alibaba). When the customer orders coffee through Ele ma (Alibaba’s take-out app) or over the counter, preference for using our cup sharing system will reveal and a cup would be assigned to carry out coffee.

The primary collection point for all the used cups are return machines. Users can either choose to go to the nearest located return machines, put in the used cups themselves. Or, the customer can use the APP to place an order and a one-click call for return, and then crowd-sourced team, ideally cleaning staff, will help collect used cups and put into the return machine.  At the same time, the IoT technology ensures continuous tracking of the current location of each cup. 

Reward points can be earned after returning the coffee cup. It can be the coffee shop coupon, support to environmental initiatives, and etc. New items can be according to the strongest incentive items of the target customer to encourage the reusing behavior.

Companies who use our cups will pay for each use, meanwhile they will save the cost of disposable containers, enjoying good marketing exposure and preference from environmental-sensitive consumers. The reusing program also reduces the amount going into the municipal waste, and the foreseeable government reimbursement could cover part of our operational cost as well. 

The core idea of our concept is to provide a platform that directly connects consumers to industrial players' green initiatives, accelerate the circulation of reusable container, promotes sustainable packaging material, replaces the use of disposable containers, and ultimately reduces the environmental footprint of the food and coffee industry. At the same time, it will raise the environmental awareness among population,  gradually direct environmentally responsible consumer behavior, and help the industries players to realize their corporate social responsibility goals.  

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Some of the Above
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

The packaging includes reusable cup, disposable cap and edible straw. The cup is composed by PET and food-grade rPET. PET is being considered as a highly recoverable material, which means if the cup is damaged during the circulation it can be recycled into rPET resin and be put back into use. Edible straw is totally biodegradable, hence it provides an effective alternative to plastic disposable straws. The recovery system comprises collection, disinfection, redistribution and delivery processes. Return machines can be placed at interval in malls, office and school to collect used cups. Also we can work with cleaning staff to collect the cups from costumer directly. The cups will be laser engraved with distinct QR code, which can be scanned by business owners and costumers via phone or scanning machine to trace every cup during the circulation. After PET cups being cleaned and sterilized, they will be redistributed and delivered to coffee shops according to the anticipated sale.

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

1. Disposable lid and straw can be made of recycled plastics that meet food grade standard, further reducing the usage of virgin material. 2. By cooperation with Alibaba and its Ant Forest, the user could accumulate green energy for supporting tree planting in desert area. 3. Additional labor force are needed to ensure timely circulating and distributing. We can cooperate with NGOs to bring people of vulnerable group to participate in our operation.

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

We plan to launch our program in central downtown area of major cities in China. Middle class office workers have increasing demand for to-go and take-out form of coffee consumption. This certainly creates even more waste, brought economic and environmental burden to the urban living space. The implementation of our cup sharing system reduces the amount of waste going into the municipal stream, encourages environmental-friendly consumption, and promotes circular economy.

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

The program’s target users are white-collar workers who are frequent coffee drinkers, and have fixed working locations. Our enrollment process is simple: download our app and register, then the user has the option to link it with coffee shop membership programs or Alibaba account. When the customer orders coffee through take-out app or over the counter, a cup would be automatically assigned. After consumption, users can drop the cup at return machines conveniently located on the first floor of the commercial building, near the coffee shop, and etc. Points will be awarded to users, which can be redeemed for various green initiatives, membership status, coupons, and etc.

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?

(1) Initial investment Launching the program requires relative big capital investment upfront. This includes the cost of the building a logistic system, recycling machines, and enough cups to circulate among the coffee shops and consumers. In addition, the cup and recycling machine are in preliminary concepts phase. In order to fulfill the continuing reusing requirements, the design, prototyping, and testing of the cup and the recycling machine could generate significant R&D expenditure. (2) Commercial relationship The sharing program greatly depends on integrating into the existing internet infrastructure, particularly Alibaba, its take-out service and credit info service. We also need to build partnership with multiple beverage providers, to allow the usage of our cups in their store and share membership program information with us.

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?

We are a group of environmental enthusiasts from Shenzhen. Most of us are recent graduates and works for a recycling company.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?

P. R. China

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

Funding will be used to optimize the durability of the PET cups, develop our mobile app, and manufacture return machines to placed at convenient locations. We will be able to build in-depth partnerships with Consortium Partners, facilitate our app connectivity as well. If our reuse cup sharing system is implemented, the food industry would be changed revolutionary. Our goal is that one day everyone would prefer the reusable cup over disposable ones with no effort.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

This inspired (1)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Jiaye Pan ,

Great to see you filling out your submission. I did want to make sure you knew your submission is currently in draft form. Was this your intention? Please click "publish" on your idea at the top of the page to submit your idea. The deadline is in a few hours, TODAY at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time!

Photo of Jiaye Pan

Hi Lauren,

I am wondering whether I am still able to add additional team members to this project? I understand the topic is locked right now.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Jiaye Pan ,

Two questions. 1. who are the team members you are trying to add? 2. can you send me the first and last names associated with their OpenIDEO accounts?