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

Kernel Cup

Kernel Cup plants the seeds of growth through a fully compostable hot beverage cup which has seeds embedded in the sleeve.

Photo of Jonathan Pao
5 0

Written by

Idea Title

Idea Summary

Kernel Cup partners with local community to build gardens, to plant the seeds of growth through a fully compostable hot beverage cup which has seeds embedded in the sleeve.

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

Problem: the recycling process of hot beverage fiber cup takes too many resources to incentivize  recycling companies.

Target market: young coffee drinkers from 18-30.

Based on interviews with young coffee drinkers we have understood their behaviors surrounding coffee culture. Coffee is consumed on the go, and recycling to go containers can be confusing process. Additionally, fast paced lifestyles mean that coffee drinkers don't want a clumsy system, they want an intuitive customer experience. Armed with disposable income, young coffee drinkers have the resources to devote to health and environmentally conscious initiatives. These conscious thinkers want to make a positive impact on their world and also let others around them know of their informed lifestyle. 


How might we redesign the single use coffee consumption system for social impact? 

Solution: a sustainable system which plants the seeds of growth for local community gardens and farms through a fully compostable cup system with embedded seeds.

Kernel cups would launch on earth day as a special edition cup. The special edition cups would run for the month of april. Every customer would receive their hot beverage in a Kernel cup. This would put cups in the hands of the target market. 

After coffee is consumed, instead being thrown away, the cup becomes the seed for change. Fruit and vegetable seeds are embedded in the coffee sleeve, which is placed in the cup with water, allowing seeds to germinate. After germinating, the whole cup can be placed in the ground in a local community garden. Over time (about 90 days) the cup would biodegrade leaving only the germinated plant behind. Instead of using a polyethelene lining, Kernel Cups uses existing technology of plant based PLA plastic lining, and plant based PLA lids. 

After April, Kernel cups would be available for a slight premium (25 cents). This additional revenue would cover the higher cost of compostable cups. In addition, a portion of this additional revenue would go towards building local community gardens. Buying and using Kernel Cup becomes a status symbol, signifying environmental consciousness and societal awareness. Kernel cup benefits the coffee drinker, as well as local community members who can reap the harvests. More than simply a beverage delivery device, Kernel Cup is a tool for environmental and social change.



This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot Cup Only
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Some of the Above

How is your concept recoverable?

While the current to go fiber cup is not easily recyclable or compostable at all, a compostable cup and lid already exists. Kernel cup would be completely compostable and return to the earth.

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

Kernel Cup would use organic sustainably sourced seeds. Additionally the fruits and vegetable planted from Kernel Cup become food for families who cannot afford fresh produce or live in food deserts.

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

The initial region would be in California, where the target market is extremely environmentally conscious. Additionally the climate would allow for growing year round.

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

According to the latest industry report on the coffee shop industry, young people 18-30 are one of the key demographics driving industry growth due to their disposable income (IBISWorld, 2018). Health and environmentally conscious, this target market is driven to bettering their own health and the health of the environment. Local community gardens also bring fresh produce to individuals who don't necessarily have the money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

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?

The biggest challenge would be fostering partnerships between local community gardens and larger scale coffee franchises.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Growth and Scaling
  • Legal
  • Fundraising / Finance

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

Jon Pao Musician/designer/maker. Studies design and environmental analysis, graduating from Cornell University in December 2018. Steav Kim Artist Studies fine art and art history, graduating from Cornell University in Spring 2019.

In what city are you located?

Ithaca, NY

In what country are you located?


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

As a top idea we would communicate with the Consortium Partners, in order to perform pilot testing and eventual larger scale integration.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Dickhoner

This is where my head first went when I saw the design brief and you suggested a solution to what I think is the biggest challenge - who pays for these premium cups? I think you have market validation for this approach. In the past, coffee shops offered fair trade coffee to customers for a premium, of say $0.25. At least where I live, which is not particularly representative, fair trade coffee seems to be the standard a premium is no longer required. There might be a similar opportunity for these sorts of cups.

My question is - how do you get people actually plant the cups? Could you have the option for people to purchase the premium cups and then donate them to a community garden all at the same shop?

View all comments