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A redesign with familiar materials; creating a reusable system with the convenience of single-use.

Photo of ATDT
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Idea Title

THECup (There, Here, Everywhere Cup)

Idea Summary

Challenging the current single-use cup system by using materials that are fully recoverable and creating a partnership between coffee shops within a neighborhood.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

Engineers Without Borders: NY Professional Chapter

Website (if applicable)

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

In a study done at Iowa State University (, 96 participants were surveyed over a wide range of demographics. In the results, over 60% of reusable bottle owners gave maintenance problems as the biggest reason for not using them all of the time. This is in spite of more than 75% of them citing environment as a major interest. For those who did not own reusable bottles, 41% stated that they were too much of a nuisance to carry around while 30% stated that they did not buy hot beverages often enough to justify carrying one. It became clear to us that a system where the maintenance of reuse is externalized to the customer would never work on a large scale.

THECup (There, Here, Everywhere Cup) is built on the idea of shared systems, that resources can be managed to make them ready for the next user without creating something new. The design of the cup system utilizes reusable elements that can be easily separated and recovered if trashed as well as fully recyclable and compostable elements. One aim of the physical cup system redesign is to maintain a level of convenience for the consumers and the partner companies while decreasing waste to landfills. Although all parties will be encouraged to adapt new practices to useutilize our idea, we plan on implementing a distribution structure within the community to make it easier. 

The physical cup system focuses on a cup made of either a stainless steel or aluminum material. Reasons for choosing either stainless steel or aluminum is that they are durable, easy to clean, do not retain residual taste or smells, and they are fully recoverable materials. Further investigation will be made on the cost of manufacturing and testing on life-cycle of the cup. The sleeve will be made of an un-coated paper that is completely recoverable and decomposable. The lid will be a starch-based bio-plastic. 

This idea relies heavily on the partnership and cooperation between local cafes, large corporate coffee chains (Starbucks, Mcdonalds), and a distribution company, that manages the maintenance and assures each shop has its allotment of cups. Post-manufacturing, the distribution company will ensure the convenience for cafes and individual customers. After purchasing a drink from a cafe, the customer can finish their drink anywhere on their route and drop it off at a nearby coffee shop that uses THECup. The coffee shop will clean and reuse cups they need and the rest will be cleaned and redistributed by the distribution company. Any damages or replacements needed will be handled by the distribution company. To encourage the customer to return it to a cafe and not toss it in the trash, the return bins will be located near the entrance/ exit of each cafe. The customers will also have a key card that when they borrow a cup, will charge them a small fee. When they are ready to drop off the cup they will use the key card to open the bin and drop off the cup, the fee will then be returned to their card. Customers who also use this program will have special line skipping privileges. This will entice other customer to join in the program and reward those that utilize the program. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Some of the Above
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

Each of the materials used in the design has value post-consumer. The plan is to reuse the metal (stainless steel or aluminum) cup continuously until it shows wear. After it is added to the waste stream it can be fully recycled and made into another product. The paper sleeve is un-coated so it can be processed regularly as most paper items and remade into other paper goods. The lid will require special processing to encourage decomposition and eventually go back to the earth.

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

Are starting target is urban centers with a large concentration of cafes, McD, and Starbucks.

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

We believe that the early adopters to this cup system will be people who believe that environmental issues are important and will reflect this belief in their buying habits. In a survey from the Shelton Group, 76% of millennials stated that they were “somewhat to extremely concerned” about climate change, vs 51% in the general population. Millennials were also most likely to push corporations to take charge of their own climate and waste footprints. Middle to upper-class millennials are also the biggest population of Starbucks customers according to Numerator sales data. For these reasons, we believe the target market to be high-earning millennials that care about 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?

Determining a solid revenue model Estimating the cost of labor for cup redistribution Industrial design and marketing

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Fundraising / Finance

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

The Appropriate Technology Design Team of EWB NY Professional Chapter researches and develops technology towards alleviating global challenges.

In what city are you located?

New York, New York

In what country are you located?


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


How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito


Great to see you in the Challenge! I'm curious, what would be the most immediate next step to develop your concept? What would you prototype and what types of insights are you looking to uncover through that process?

A reminder that the deadline to edit your submissions is in a few hours at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time!

Photo of Jesse Lee

Hi Lauren! I'm not the original poster, but I was a member of the group that developed this submission.

Our immediate next steps will be to make a simple prototype of both the cup, and a safe one-way bin for depositing the cups after use.

In the prototyping phase, we would likely be looking at what sorts of designs are intuitive, convenient, and safe for people to use and return. We'll also be looking at how many times people opt for a returnable cup, whether they return them in the way we designed for, and surveying for what sorts of factors are at play when they make these decisions.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Great! Thank you for including this. If you have time in the next hour, please include this next step in the body of your submission. Otherwise, you're all set for the deadline.