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Coffee Soul Cup

This is a recyclable and also disposable/compostable cup that incorporates spent coffee grounds into the cup.

Photo of RHEOMOD Marca
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Idea Title

Providing additives to recover natural materials

Idea Summary

This is a recyclable and also disposable/compostable cup that incorporates spent coffee grounds into the cup. The coffee grounds are blended in a biopolymer (PHA or PLA) with the help of our additive.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)


Website (if applicable)

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

Our solution is to provide an alternate material for the cup and lid system. We understand that many of the submissions to the challenge are focused on how to implement a solution around the paper cup, but we think that the problem is that it is a paper cup.

Plastics have a terrible reputation in our current reality. They are touted as one of the major ecological problems of our generation. However, they are incredible useful materials. Our solution proposes to use a plastic created by bacteria (PHA) as a basis for a compound where we will incorporate spent coffee grounds. This compound can then be molded into cups and lids that can be either kept by the consumer as an alternative to the "traveling reusable cup", or recycled or disposed to be biodegraded in land fills. Yes, the base plastic is fully biodegradable, since it is produced by bacteria and microbials identify it as a source of food. Thus it is bioprocessed by bacteria in a matter of months, as opposed to years or decades for other types of plastic.

The solution can be retrofitted to the current suppliers (molders) of reusable cups and lids. The cup will consist of two layers, an outside layer made of the coffee-bioplastic compound and an inner layer made of neat PHA. This to ensure FDA compliance of the cup and to expedite implementation of the solution. The coffee-bioplastic composite can be produced by a "regular" plastic compounder based on a standard formulation (created by addico) and the cup and lids can be produced in a co-injection molding machine (there are many models and suppliers). Addico will provide the technology, formulation and additives to create the coffee-bioplastic compound. 

One additional thing to consider in order to implement the solution will be collection centers for spent coffee grounds, or a service of collection from the different stores. The idea is to concentrate the waste at a regional level and then processed it so that it can be easily handled by the plastic compounder.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot Cup Only
  • Cup Lids
  • Cup Liner
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

The cup is made of a plastic composite. It can be washed and reused by the end user or it can be collected at the stores to be recycled. If the cup is disposed in the regular trash it will be bioprocessed by bacteria, since PHA is a fully biodegradable polyester that can be digested by microbials. Thus plastic cups that are not collected to be recycled and find their way to a dumpster will still be biodegraded/composted by bacteria without the need of special facilities. The idea is to provide a cup and lid made of the same material, that can be easily recycled into more cups or kept by the user as a permanent cup. The cup is constructed in two layers, an external made up the coffee grounds-bioplastic composite and a thin internal layer of neat biopolymer (PHA). This to insure that the plastic in contact with the beverage is 100% FDA compliant. The concept can be implemented readily with the existing suppliers of the reusable travel cup. Usage of residual coffee will drive cost down.

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

Our solution allows not only for the recycling of the cups but also addresses the problem of recycling of the spent coffee grounds. This last problem is also huge, only a small fraction of this day to day waste is recovered, the rest goes to landfills where its acidity might not allow for it to be properly composted. We are proposing that polymer compounding companies will buy back this material from a centralized collection deposit and use it to prepare a plastic compound with a bioplastic-PHA

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

We believe that the solution can be implemented globally. In most of the regions you will have plastic compounders and molders for the travel reusable cups. A process needs to be implemented for the collection of the spent coffee grounds, drying of this material and shipping to a plastic compounder-partner. There the coffee-plastic compound will be produced (as per standard formulation) and be shipped to the local molder of the cups and thermoformer of the lids

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

We believe that our solution will benefit the inhabitants of the earth. The amount of the coffee cups, lids and waste coffee grounds in the dumpsters is staggering. We need to provide a solution to mitigate the problem as soon as possible. Of course there is a chain of industries that will benefit from it, ranging from the farmers of canola in NC, the producer of PHA (MHG), the plastic compounders in several regions of the globe, the molders, etc. We have also to consider that this solutions will have a positive impact on the usage of water for recycling (you use much less to recycle plastic than paper) and the associated energy. So overall the planet wins.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Piloting

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

We believe that the greatest challenges to proceed with our solution are: 1) Set up of facilities to collect and condition spend coffee grounds, 2) Validation of the prototypes with the FDA, 3) Cost of the bioplastic, 4) Public acceptance of a "new" type of cup. If we are able to tackle the first three within a resanoble amount of time the solution could validated with a control group to overcome the fourth challenge.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainability and Recoverability
  • Fundraising / Finance

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

In what city are you located?

Toluca, Mexico

In what country are you located?


What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)

it is a SAPI de CV in Mexico, very similar to a LLC

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

We will use the funding to set up a pilot facility to precondition the spent coffee grounds. We have already facilities to produce the coffee-bioplastic compound. So to go to market we will need to mold the cups, form the lids and send them for FDA testing. The funding will be used to validate the whole process, make sure of the scalability of the solution and adjust cost to a target that can compete with the current fiber cup + lid

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • In the news
  • Closed Loop Partners website / social media


Join the conversation:

Photo of Koldun Victor

An ordinary cardboard cup breaks down in the natural environment roughly in a year or thereabout. Approximately how the fallen leaves does, consisting of the same cellulose. In order for the new material for the production of cups to become a cost effective replacement of cardboard, it should decompose order faster, somewhere in a month, maybe two or three. This is at an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (according to NASA). But when we pour water near a boiling point, at a temperature of 95 degrees, into such cup , according to the rule of Svante August Arrhenius, all the chemical processes in it, including the self-decay of complex molecules, respectively, accelerate. The minimum acceleration will be somewhere 250 times, and the maximum will be about 65,000 times. That is, for a disposable cup that has been filled for at least an hour, and this is a real situation somewhere on a picnic, there is all the chances to pour out their content on the table at best , at worst, on himself or his electronic devices. Even if this cup was made a few days before that and was stored in a stock in perfect conditions.
Therefore, the question arises - how do you deal with such issue?

Photo of RHEOMOD Marca

Dear Victor: Thank you for your question. A cup made o cardboard might decompose as you stated, but a regular cup used for coffee will take much longer due to the liner of polymer/wax that is in the interior of the cup. This liner makes it "resistent" to the hot beverage and thus the self-decay is never activated. In the cup concept that we propose the cardboard is replaced by a biodegradable polymer, one that will be food to bacteria. However, degradation or self decay of the cup will only be activated when you leave the cup in the presence of bacteria. Thus if you are drinking your hot beverage, finish and wash the cup, the cup will not degrade significantly. If you dump the cup in the trash and this becomes in contact with bacteria, the microorgranisms will begin feeding on the cup and it will eventually disappear. Here is a link to the polymer producer: if you want more info.

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