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RECUP - Deposit system for reusable cups

RECUP is a deposit system for reusable cups. I.e. Coffee drinkers rent their cup and may return it to every participating partner shop.

Photo of Alexandra Gerstmeier
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Idea Title

RECUP - Return, reuse, recycle!

Idea Summary

RECUP is a deposit system for reusable cups that allows i.e coffee drinkers to rent their cups in exchange for a deposit, enjoy their drink on the go and return it to every participating partner shop.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

reCup GmbH

Website (if applicable)

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

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Reusable System
  • Alternative Delivery System

How is your concept recoverable?

Our RECUPs are made of pure PP and can be used around 1.000 times within the system (thereby each substituting at least 1.000 disposable cups). After these 1.000 reintroductions and/or in case they are not appropriate for use in the system anymore (because the printing washed off or the cups are broken), they get fully recycled at our manufacturer. By introducing a reusable system rather than changing the material of disposable cups, we can educate consumers to rethink their consumption decisions. Our system also includes reusable lids and could be adapted to other products besides cups (such as food boxes for takeaways).

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

As a social startup, we focus on all three pillars of sustainability - starting with fair salaries and addressing strategic decisions transparently as a team. We choose the companies we hire with regard to sustainability and social aspects as well: For creating our marketing material, we work with an economical friendly printery, correctional institutions and working places for disabled people. We use our network to consult on further sustainable solutions and reusable products (such as straws).

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

At the moment we only operate in Germany, but are preparing to expand to other markets with the goal to make our IT-backbone, cups (and brand) and our expertise available for other parties in different countries. With entering new markets, various challenges may arise, such as the need for different cup sizes, readiness for sustainable alternatives and the sharing culture, finding a solution for cleaning of the cups without partners, preventing the cups from traveling over boarders etc.

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

RECUP-users benefit from having a sustainable alternative to disposable cups whilst having more convenience compared to bringing their own reusable cup. Participating shops benefit by reducing waste and costs, whilst enjoying image benefits as well as network advantages. Besides that, with using extra benefits for customers that use the RECUP-deposit in their store (with vouchers from vending machines for instance) they could increase customer loyalty. Official entities, such as the city management or the waste management benefit from reducing enormous quantities of waste.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Operating Concept / Startup

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

Finding alternative materials that function as well as PP in a deposit system (light, easy to clean, durable, energy efficient in production), how to bring RECUP to other countries, how to involve vending machines and how to install or involve a cleaning service into the business model (for all partners that are not able to clean the cups on their own).

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Supply Chain
  • Growth and Scaling

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

Our team of 22 coffee-lovers is working every day to offer a more sustainable alternative to disposable fibre cups. We do so, because we believe that starting with reusable cups is easy, but may raise awareness to other sustainability topics as well.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


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


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

Whilst currently facing the possibilities and challenges of scaling and growth, having someone ready to help with expertise would be extremely helpful to take present opportunities more easily. We'd use funding to do research on alternative materials for cups in a deposit system, for the introduction of other products besides cups (e.g. food boxes) and for innovations that increase convenience of our system for busy partner shops (such as vending machines and external cleaning service).

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Direct email invitation
  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


Our team consists of 22 people working full-time for RECUP. Everyone has, besides of motivation to change the current status-quo, experiences from different backgrounds. Overview: - 2 founders - 2 in Business Development - 7 Sales people (two-people teams in street sales, key account and inhouse solutions) - 1 taking care of city inquiries - 1 in IT, 1 in logistics - 5 in marketing - 1 accounting, 3 customer support

Material / Recoverability Plan

For now, RECUPs are made of pure and virgin PP, are colored in mint/brown and have a print on them. After close examination, we believe PP still is the most suitable material for a deposit system due to its properties and that there is no need to switch material in general - plastic is fine, as long as it's used enough times (for recovered options see below)! We still made some decisions that might ease the recoverability and the recycling at the end of the product lifecycle. Usually, cups need to be recycled after around 1.000 uses - mostly because the print goes off. Since the surface of the cup closes after 3 months, reprinting the cup (instead of completely recycling it) is no option. The print has another throwback: it makes recycling harder! Solution: Get rid of the print! We found an alternative solution to display the logo and slogan without either having an extra production or transportation step in between or without having any other material involved: Namely, change in machinery that displays the logo by changing the surface of the cup (smooth and transparent logo on roughened cup). Besides that, we decided to consider ending special editions with city skylines. Thereby, we hope over-production is reduced and less cups disappear from the market (as souvenirs). Changing the colors to a transparent or white color is no option: Cups may take colors of drinks and would maybe have to be taken out of the cycle earlier (which obviously would be bad!). Regarding material, we'd like to switch to recovered PP rather than virgin PP. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of legislative restrictions regards recovered PP used for food-containers. With enough support from industry leaders, we might be able to change restrictions and find manufacturers that are willing to take the risk. Regards recycling in general: There are two options, in general, that you find attached to this section as an image!


RECUPs currently are made of pure PP due to the several beneficial properties PP has. It is more durable and stable as other materials, doesn't need any softeners or additives, takes less energy to get produced and is easy to clean. If used enough times and recycled in a useful way, PP is, in our opinion, the best material for a deposit system. Talking about virgin materials, though, a switch to recovered materials (recycled PP) is desirable. Since this, at least in Germany, is not possible for now due to restrictions and manufactures afraid to take the risk of guaranteeing there was nothing dangerous in the cup before, a lot of work needs to be done here. Bio-plastic could be, at some point, be an alternative option. We've already been in discussion with some producers but haven't found the perfect substitute so far. The goal for scaling is to source a big part of the material from recycled RECUPs or PP, though, with the possibility to have this been proven foodsafe. First steps towards a better recyclability are made to the prototype (see below): no print, eventually less color. If it comes to other material, such as for marketing material or material for POS-presenters, we try to source this also from recycled material or left-overs of productions (such as wood). Our PP is sourced from our producer from BASF – the PP fulfills highest quality standards.

Final Prototype

Changes: Rather than having it printed on we'd use a different technique of displaying the logo, which includes no other material or print colour and skylines (see recoverability). Our cups currently get recycled to other products, but due to legal restrictions and safety reasons cannot be used for new RECUPs. This new method would allow a RECUP-to-RECUP recycling rather than a down cycling. The prototype in the picture is transparent (see recoverability).For more information, see recoverability


PP without additives or softeners meets current standards. Our cups get produced and recycled from the same producer (Adoma) in Germany, who source the granulate from BASF.

Ecosystem Placement

RECUP is relevant, since we successfully established a nationwide deposit system and are currently working on bringing the system to other countries as well. We have the expertise as well as understand difficulties in scaling related to reusable options, which will be helpful in solving these difficulties. On product side, our cups (and lids) can be used for hot and cold drinks and currently are developing new lids (hot/cold, fully closable) and sleeves to isolate the cup. We are also planning to introduce other products in our system, namely food boxes. With network we are optimistic to reduce even more waste caused by different types of packaging! Furthermore, we believe that having reusable options complementary to sustainable disposable ones will have huge benefits on educating the consumer and nudge his behavior to a more conscious consumption overall. Our system is adaptable for cultural needs and our online shop has the potential to become a market place for reusable products.

Rollout Plan

Difficult to answer, since we are already fully on market. Adaptions and changes due to scaling and different cultural challenges could be adapted over time, whereas the system is ready to go! 1. R&D period: Since the product itself is already established, R&D has to be done on recovered materials and everything related to logistics --> should be done continuously 2. MVP: already existent, might be improved through R&D but ready to test 3. With all the changes for scaling and recoverability, probably 2-3 months 4. New cups can be produced within 2 months. If the design or color needs to be changed, we need around 12-15 weeks.

Business Model Canvas

Please find the business canvas in our open drive folder: Please find the changes to our current business model that resulted from this challenge's learnings in the same folder!

Prize Funding

We'd use the funding to push the following things: - R&D on vending machines that take RECUPs back and might even clean them - on incorporating more sustainable delivery methods into our system - on new employees to scale - in efforts to optimize recycling to find a way to source PP from recovered rather than virgin materials - on the app and the tech-side of the cup with the goal to get better data and to find ways to motivate end-consumer (with acknowledgement, discounts, Boni, ...)

NextGen Accelerator

  • Yes, I am interested in participating in the NextGen Cup Accelerator

Optional Team Video

Quick get-to-know with our founders and a short trip through the office!


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Photo of Cleo de Brabander

Great work Alex!

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