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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

Cupbin

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?

NYC

In what country are you located?

USA

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

19 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of amirhosein mansourian
Team

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.

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

Has some potential, I am not sure as I have concerns for health and safety of the reusable cups.

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Anthony Zammit , thanks for your feedback! We have since greatly modified our proposal to assure our idea would be logistically and economically feasible to test and implement. Many of the changes we made was specifically to address the health and safety concerns that people seem to have with cup-sharing systems. We will soon post a video of our modified proposal in the comment section of this post and tag you to get your input!

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

sounds like you guys are on the ball, great to hear

Spam
Photo of Daniel Grosso
Team

Hi Sara Nejad , great idea! I agree big business should be finding away to wash returnable cups rather than being responsible for sending countless disposable cups to landfill. Have you checked out VessellWorks? They currently operate a similar initiative in NYC and have been prototyping smart bins. Why will people (and businesses) choose to use your reusable cups over their already convenient disposable cups?

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Daniel Grosso, thank you so much for introducing us to VessellWorks! We love their idea, and especially the fact that as a company they bridge the gap between coffee shops and their costumers, and taking out the hassle of logistics for both parties! Do you know in what stage they are currently?

Spam
Photo of Daniel Grosso
Team

Hi Sara Nejad , based on their Instagram page I believe they have a number of cafes operating in both New York and Boulder. Check out their website: http://vesselwrks.com

The real challenge for these style of initiatives to spread far and wide is the adoption by cafes. Most cafes run on such small profit margins and/or very targeted marketing in a competitive industry that it is hard for them to contribute time or money towards the collection and washing of reusable cups. It makes sense to us because we care but for these initiatives to thrive we need to put ourselves in the shoes of cafe owners just trying to make a living or the coffee drinker that just wants their favourite cup of coffee. Amongst all that we need to find a way to resource washing local reusable cups rather than using ridiculously cheap disposable cups.

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Daniel Grosso thanks for the link! We studied them further and based on how they and other existing cup-sharing systems operate, we decided to edit our proposal. We have since greatly modified the main elements to assure our idea would be logistically and economically feasible to test and implement. We will soon post a video of our modified proposal in the comment section of this post and tag you to get your input!

Spam
Photo of Saniya Shahid
Team

Hi Sara,

This is an interesting idea, however, I am concerned about the sanitary aspect of this project. How will you market to people who are reluctant to participate because of the sanitary concerns in this project? How will you determine where to put the Cupbins without overcrowding the street and making it accessible to all the people participating in your project.

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Saniya Shahid  , thanks for your feedback! We have since greatly modified our proposal to assure our idea would be logistically and economically feasible to test and implement. Many of the changes we made was specifically to address the health and safety concerns that people seem to have with cup-sharing systems. We will soon post a video of our modified proposal in the comment section of this post and tag you to get your input!

Spam
Photo of Katherine Tinco
Team

Hey Sara Nejad, I'm really interested in this idea. You mentioned that you would partner with companies such as, McDonalds and Starbucks, to implement a multi-phase circular system. So are they going to be funding this process? How much money will go into the design and development of smart trash bins? And how do you know these companies will want to switch to reusable cups?

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Katherine Tinco , thanks for your feedback! We have since greatly modified our proposal to assure our idea would be logistically and economically feasible to test and implement. We decided to greatly simplify our proposal and implement a system using existing infrastructure, such as Starbuck's reusable cups and mobile app. We also modified the smart-bin to create a deposit box that could easily and cheaply be put in place and tested. We will soon post a video of our modified proposal in the comment section of this post and tag you to get your input!

Spam
Photo of Charles Dicus
Team

This is a very attainable goal for a city like New York. I wonder what kind of an initial investment would be required to start such a system as well as the costs of maintenance and operation. I think this needs some more logistical research to determine whether or not it is cost effective in New York City. It may be more cost effective and environmentally friendly to simply use recyclable single use cups or even recyclable multi use cups made of perhaps aluminum or some similar material.

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

Has some potential, I am not sure as I have concerns for health and safety of the reusable cups.

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Charles Dicus, thanks for your feedback! We have since greatly modified our proposal to assure our idea would be logistically and economically feasible to test and implement. We will soon post a video of our modified proposal in the comment section of this post and tag you to get your input!

Spam
Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Great idea Sara Nejad and team. You might want to check what the city of Freiburg in Germany did: https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2018/01/24/germany-citys-answer-disposable-coffee-cups-genius (can't remember if we talked about it). In your case, you are creating another touch point (instead of using stores) but you might still learn from them. You should also check Vesselworks as suggested by Daniel Grosso http://vesselwrks.com Their model is an interesting one (closer to the German idea). You could also contact the NYU team who developed Sorty : https://wp.nyu.edu/makerspace/2018/04/18/meet-sorty-awardees-of-nyu-prototyping-fund/
Looking forward to what you're going to learn with your first prototypes and user feedback.

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Anne-Laure Fayard, thanks for the feedback and the extra resources to help us take our idea further and fine-tune it in the prototyping phase! There's also a similar company called RECUP (https://thecafenyupoly.blogspot.com/2018/10/secondary-research-2-alternative.html). They have a similar circular system for reusable cups that we we were inspired by. Although, we'd like to test if both the US consumers and also big coffee shop chains like Starbucks would be open to using cups with a different brand than one featuring their own logo. That would certainly make it easier to implement this system as cups could be used and returned universally at every participating coffee shop, regardless of their brand!

Spam
Photo of Lauren Ito
Team

Hi team!

Are you aware of other ideas in the space tackling the issue with a similar circular delivery model? What might you learn from their approach? I'd encourage you to look into Cup Club, one of our winners from the Circular Design Challenge (https://vimeo.com/140657727) for inspiration on how to specifically address this model in New York City. How would you begin to test your concept?

Looking forward to learning more!

Spam
Photo of Sara Nejad
Team

Hi Lauren Ito ! Thank you for sending us the link to Cup Club. We too considered using bikes as a green mode of delivery. We currently like to test whether cup delivery from our smart bins to coffee shops is in fact an attractive opportunity in the gig economy, especially for those who already use platforms like Uber or postmates as a source of income. We'd like to start out with getting user feedback on the entire system, using a storyboard/ short video. In addition to getting feedback from the gig economy regulars, we are testing out the idea with the end users as well to measure their response to our idea and gather suggestions from them to improve our prototype.