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Deposit System

Using Circular Economy principles to create a cup deposit system to allow cups to return to participating sellers.

Photo of Juan Forno
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Written by

Idea Title

Cerchio Sytem

Idea Summary

A universal cup retrieval system consisting in users paying for a deposit on a refillable cup which they will get back upon returning it to participating sellers.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

OpenIDEO Guatemala City Chapter

Website (if applicable)


I am actually rescuing an idea I submitted last year for the Circular Desing Challenge that I didnt get an opportunity to follow up on. The idea first came around when a buddy and I took a closer look at how beer festivals in Europe manage to have  "zero-waste" beer drinking experiences. Essentially what they do is that they get you to pay a small deposit to be able to use those 3-pound German beer mugs in addition to the beer price. They do it this way because you can imagine the amount of "accidents" that might happen at beer festivals and the organizers want to make sure they are not loosing money on broken beer mugs. But the nice "side-effect" is that at the end of the night, there is virtually no waste coming beer consupmtion like there is in concerts or sports games. 

This is because a deposit system follows principles of a Circular Ecomony. People dont care about the mug, they care about the beer! We have found that this is certaintly the case with coffe and other fast food drinks, so why not apply the same principles?

The essence of the idea is to apply the same deposit system from beer festivals and incorporate it to coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and/or any other distributor of fiber to-go cups. The only difference is that single-usage fiber cups would be replaced by a more durable, more recyclable and refillable option. 

How it (could) works 
See drawings (take it easy on me since I'm not the greatest drawer XD)

The solution itself would be a platform service for both businesses and users in the format of a webapp. 

Step 1: Lets say Sam goes to get his morning coffe at a participating coffe shop and he orders the usual small cold-brew coffee to-go

Step 2: Sam will then pull up his phone with his app siplaying a QR Code

Step 3: Sam will pay the fee for coffe (which may come at a discount consdering the savings from not having the additional COGS from disposable cups) as well as the refillable cup deposit.

Step 4: Sam gets electronic deposit token on his phone app as well as possible reward points from the coffee shop.

***after consumption***

Step 5A: Sam can return the cup at any participant location for his deposit back

Step 5B: Sam can return to repurchase a beverage (repeat step 1)

Step 5C: Sam can keep the cup (deposit covers the cost anyway)

Step 5D: Sam can recycle the cup 

Alternative Option

This platform could also have an option for people who want to bring their own reusable cup. The only thing that may change here is that Sam does not need to pay the deposit. He could still enjoy the discount and the reward points.


Business Owners:

  • Application can provide customer analytics and consumer patterns. 
  • They could use platform to have more direct line of communication with users
  • Save money on single-use cups
  • Improve brand image
  • Participating in program results in higher traffic from users wanting to return cup which may lead to sales


  • Receive discunted prices on drinks
  • Can be eligible for rewards
  • Leveraging technology, the application can include elements of gamification with badges and scoreboards that would be visible for every participating user
  • Coffee (or any other drink for that matter) consumption could be a guilt-less experience


  • Less waste in the ecosystem
  • Opportunity to raise awareness of global waste crisis

This is something I did not include in last submission but we are now starting to see the consequences of not addressing these global issues. At home in Guatemala, we are at legal risk with other nations for how our waste management impacts other countries (let alone the incredible damages we are suffering internally)

This idea is a positive solution for what is now an issue that all nations are responsible for. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Reusable System
  • Alternative Delivery System

How is your concept recoverable?

The system itself is built for the majority of cups to be recoverable since there are multiple incentives to do so (from multiple parties as we have seen). In addition, the cups within this system that do not end up being recovered, would have a better chance at being recycled because of the material they would be made of (which is a major problem with today's to-go cups)

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

Here is where I would leverage the support from the global community. There are several ideas out there that pertain to the design of a new cup with responsable materials, responsible supply chains, and scaling potential. This idea welcomes those cup designs to be the "refillable cups" that users would pay the deposit for.

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

I am not sure if this idea is exclusive to a specific region. This solution pertains more to established businesses (big or small) that have the technological capacity to implement and maintaing usage of the platform. There needs to be, at a minimum, a place to clean and store reusable cups.

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

See "Incentives" section above.

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?

-Promoting brand neutrality may be an issue for certain businesses: We have all seen that coffee shops and fast food restaurants use a lot of "space real estate" in their cups to promote their bland. Thats how they turn all of us into walking billboards. Having an universal platform and program may limit said businesses to take advantage of this since the cups are shared amongst various locations -Standarization: This is going to be key if we want the idea to be scalable. From a technological aspect, scalability would not be a problem as long as the software supports multiple businesses. The cups, however, pose a standarization challenges since they need to be alligned with all the businesses offerings. -Differing pick up and drop off locations: This idea may lend it self to location having a surplus or a lack of cups. This means that we would have to figure out a way to make sure that every participating business has enough cups to run operations smoothly.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Supply Chain
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping
  • Branding / Marketing and Storytelling
  • Growth and Scaling

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

My name is Juan Pablo Forno and I am the community anager for the OpenIDEO Guatemala City Chapter. My background is in business model development, project management, and sales. I am also currently starting a strategic design studio.

In what city are you located?

Guatemala City

In what country are you located?


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

Not Applicable. I am submitting this idea as a member of the OpenIDEO Guatemala City Chapter

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

-Platform development (a lot of frameworks already exist but this still needs to be built) -Identification of refillable cup to be used (could invite variety but needs to also be standarized) -Supply chain refinement (this idea is a success or a failure depending on how good the supply chain management is) -Getting the opportunity to test user reaction to the idea. Behavioral economcs and consumer patters are dificult to predict, ler alone influence. This idea must encourage users to join.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Other

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Daniel Grosso

Nice on Juan Forno ! Have you thought about prototyping this model without the app? Some cafes are more than happy to have a small cup library made up of any old reusable mugs, glass jars, or other cups. The deposit scheme can be a small quantity or you can try without a deposit scheme first. I have a few key learnings from prototyping a similar initiative in Australia. It is possible for the cups to return to the cafe without a deposit scheme. Also, the cups do not travel as much as I had anticipated. People generally have their favourite cafe and they return there for their favourite coffee. This might be different in Mexico. I look forward to learning how your idea progresses! Don't be afraid to get out there and give it a go before you have the app ready. Who knows what you will learn...