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

A system to distribute and transfer reusable to-go cups around NYC

Cupbin is a logistics system that tackles the problem of inconvenience associated with using and carrying around reusable cups.

Photo of Sara Nejad

Written by

Idea Title


Idea Summary

Cupbin places smart bins around the city, designated to collect reusable cups. It then transfers the cups to coffee shops to be washed and reused, by using existing delivery networks such as Uber.

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

Given the urgency of this problem and that most disposable cups ending up in the landfill are produced by global franchise companies such as Starbucks and McDonalds, we realized how businesses could take on the responsibility to switch to reusable cups, instead of persuading and waiting for the customers to sacrifice convenience and change their behavior on a global scale. In order to facilitate this shift, Cupbin will partner with these companies to implement a multi-phase circular system. 

Phase 1: A circular system design + marketing strategy to integrate reusable to-go cups at Starbucks locations in NYC.

In this phase we leverage existing elements, including the abundance of Starbucks locations, their reusable cups and their existing app, which includes online ordering and a store locator feature, to design a circular system for re-usable cups to be ordered, picked up and dropped off at any Starbucks location.

Phase 2: Smart bins + decentralized collection & delivery system

In phase two, we expand the scope of participating partners, and design reusable hot/cold cups + smart bins to deposit and collect them. We then partner with existing delivery and transportation networks such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates and DoorDash to transport cups from bins to local coffee shop locations.

The Cup: 

Similar to our aluminum disposable cup idea, called AluCup, these reusable cups have a two wall structure and are made from recycled, safe and light weight material, such as stainless steel or polypropylene. These cups can be used for both hot and cold beverages, and maintain temperature much longer than paper or plastic cups. The cups have a built in lid and straw that ensure all parts stay intact during the product life-cycle. In addition, each cup has a unique and multipurpose code.

Customers will pay a deposit for using the cup to guarantee that they will dispose of the cup in designated bins or at coffee shop locations. They get their deposit back plus extra incentive every time they return their reusable cups. If they forget their cup one day, they could earn the money back by bringing two cups back on their next visit.  

The Bin:

Cupbin only opens when a consumer scans her cup's code over the bin. The bin then uses the code to automatically sort the cup and deposit it in a corresponding sub-bin (i.e. Cups with Starbucks barcode will be sorted in Starbucks sub-bin). When a sub-bin is full, the bin sends out a "pick up" signal that will be matched to close-by drivers through various partner networks.

The Delivery: 

Once a driver is matched to a bin, he will scan his unique identification code to open the bin and access the sub-bin matched to a local delivery destination, where the cups will be scanned and washed to be reused.

The Marketing:

To promote these new reusable to-go cups, we can have a guerrilla campaign where there are bikes with a portable dishwasher in the back that washes the cups as the user pedals. This will bring awareness that plastic and paper cups are killing the environment, and that by switching to reusable cups we can help make the world a cleaner place.     

The goal of the idea is to promote second uses with reusable cups and decrease the usage of disposable cups. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • All of the Above
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

The cups are reusable as well as recyclable. The deposit on the cup encourages people to return them or dispose them in designated bins. However, even if the cups are disposed in regular landfill/recycling bins, their high recycling value will guarantee that they will remain in the circular economy and not end up in the landfill.

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

The reusable cups use globally recyclable material suited for the circular economy. Also, Cupbin's decentralized logistics system, using local existing delivery networks reduces high carbon emission resulted from constant production and long distance shipping of single-use paper and plastic cups.

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

Big urban areas like New York,San Francisco and Los Angeles, where delivery networks such as Postmates or Uber are widely used. Also areas with closer proximity that are more convenient for bikers.

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

Our target market are the on-the-go coffee/tea drinkers, who are frequent users of disposable cups. Majority of them are concerned about the environment, but daily responsibilities get in their way to switch to reusable cups. Cupbin will benefit them by tackling the inconvenience of carrying around reusable cups, and eliminating the the need to change the customer’s hard habits of throwing away disposable cups. Also, the clear affordance of the cup helps them to dispose of the cup in the right bins.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

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

- The customer’s habit to conversion to the solution. - The customer and business concerns for health and safety of the reusable cups. - The design and development of smart trash bins to collect and sort reusable cups. - The marketing campaign and developing the mechanics of the portable dish washing machine on the bicycle.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Supply Chain
  • Waste and Infrastructure
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping
  • Branding / Marketing and Storytelling
  • Growth and Scaling
  • Legal

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

We are a diverse team of NYU graduate students. We all come from different ethnic and professional backgrounds and have experience in healthcare, marketing, product design, technology, startup, graphic design and architecture.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


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

Working with Consortium Partners will support the growth of the concept for building an efficient prototype of the reusable cups and smart bins, as well as testing the concept with a few participating coffee shops. These are the key steps to help the concept to move forward.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)
  • Other


Join the conversation:

Photo of amirhosein mansourian

HI sara. great job.
how can i being one of your team members? i have a lot of ideas about recycling subjects like this and i really like to work with you and your team.

View all comments