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

Fully Recyclable Disposable Aluminum Cups

Disposable aluminum cup is a product that tackles the problem of global sortability and recyclability of disposable plastic and fiber cups.

Photo of Sara Nejad
4 2

Written by

Idea Title


Idea Summary

A disposable cup made entirely out of aluminum that can be used for both cold and hot drinks, disposed of easily and sorted/recycled entirely and on a global scale.

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

First, lack of awareness and proper knowledge about recycling among consumers is one of the main contributing factors in the high level of consumption of plastic and paper cups: Most are unaware of the recycling process for each material, and assume that all plastic cups get recycled globally, or that paper cups (fiber cups) are biodegradable/recyclable. According to our primary and secondary research, both these assumptions are false; yet, they remain integral to current consumer attitudes and behavior surrounding disposable cups. 

Moreover, the lack of distinction between recyclable and biodegradable paper and plastic material confuses the consumers even more, and creates issues when sorting and recycling the material both for the consumers, waste collection and the recycling plants. 

Second, inconvenience of using reusable cups is one of the main factors that impedes consumers to reduce their consumption of disposable cups. They are inconvenient to carry around and clean. Moreover, most consumers, especially in the U.S., are on-the-go drinkers who like to dispose of their cups as soon as they are done. 

Third, while corporations like Starbucks and McDonalds like to find an alternative material that is sustainable and green, they still need the new material to be cost effective and scalable. Yet, most biodegradable or compostable material in the market remain costly to mass produce, especially in the short-term, mainly because of the high initial set-up cost

Our goal is to improve the convenience of using disposable cups, without requiring the consumers to learn a new habit or change their existing behavior. Furthermore, we aim to make a cup with a material that most people already know how to recycle (unlike fiber or biodegradable cups). This can be an “easy” way to create a global shift without having to change the consumers' experience or make them learn and adopt a new behavior.

To overcome these obstacles and alleviate the main pain points, we are focusing on creating disposable to-go cups, using a material that is globally available, recyclable and cost-effective to mass produce and convenient to use and dispose of for the consumer. We are focusing on making a disposable cup made entirely out of aluminum that can be used for both cold and hot drinks, disposed of easily and sorted/recycled entirely on a global scale.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • All of the Above

How is your concept recoverable?

Aluminum's ease of recycling and its high demand in the recycling market ensures its recoverability. Plastic cups are not recycled globally, due to diverse recycling protocols in different regions. Almost all fiber cups end up in the landfill because they are not easily recyclable and the high cost of their recycling makes them an unattractive material for recycling plants. Aluminum, however, is the most valuable and one of the easiest material to recycle. It is one of the most accessible materials in the world that can be recycled and back on the shelf in 60 days.

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

By using aluminum to make cups for hot/cold drinks, we eliminate using petroleum based plastics and make disposable cups a stable in the circular economy. Decentralized manufacturing, using existing infrastructure will reduce carbon emission of production and shipping.

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

We believe that the universal accessibility, recoverability and the high value of aluminum for recycling facilities make disposable aluminum cups a solution that can be implemented globally.

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

Main target market is the on the go tea/coffee drinkers who use several disposable cups daily. They want the convenience of using disposable cups without the cognitive dissonance. They'll benefit from using aluminum cups, because they can maintain the convenience of using disposable cups without having to changing their routine. Also, they will have a disposable cup that will maintain the temperature of their drinks longer than plastic or fiber cups do. By changing the material to fit consumers expectations, needs and behavior, we will be able to help solve this global issue without sacrificing convenience or forcing people to learn a new behavior.

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?

We are currently in the prototyping phase and need to find the right sheet thickness to create a double wall cup that is not too hot/cold to touch, and is safe/pleasurable to drink out of the lid. We also need to conduct taste testing to ensure that using aluminum does not result in change in flavor, due to chemical reaction with coffee. If it does change the taste, we need to figure out a way to fix that problem. In addition, our goal is to design a double insulated aluminum cup that is light and can hold the same amount of liquid as plastic/fiber cups without a noticeable change in dimensions. Bonus: We aim to design an all-in-one cup with built in lid and straw form the same material.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainability and Recoverability
  • Waste and Infrastructure
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping
  • 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?

New York City

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 help us to: - Design and build an efficient prototype of the double wall disposable aluminum cup. - Test our prototype on a bigger scale to ensure its usability and pleasurability. - Understand the circular economy better, and establish supply chain efficiency to ensure sustainable manufacturing costs for stakeholders.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

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


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thank you Sara Nejad and team for sharing your AluCup idea. Great to see the research insights that inspire your idea. I also like your focus on creating a product that does not require major changes of behavior and tap into people's current knowledge of recycling. Looking forward to seeing what you will learn with your prototyping. You might also think of creating an experience map (see to illustrate your product use as well as start thinking about the first encounter and interaction with your new cup.
Check also this idea
Looking forward to seeing your idea evolve.

Photo of Sara Nejad

Thanks for your comment Anne-Laure Fayard! The experience map is definitely a great template for both our concepts and we are going to use it for the main concept that we will be working on for the rest of the challenge.
We also reviewed the other aluminum cup proposal, and reading the comments gave us better insight about our idea. We believe that we need to dive deeper into cost analysis and make sure that using aluminum is in fact as sustainable as our initial research indicated.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi @Sara Nejad and the @Fully Recyclable Disposable Aluminum Cups team!
Great to see you diving into the Challenge! I appreciate your consideration of the entirety of the cup ecosystem. How much this cup cost relative to other solutions in the market and how might it be cost competitive in the market?I'd also encourage you to look at this exercise from the Circular Design Challenge, Create Brand Promise, to consider storytelling for your concept and brand promise: forward to learning more!

Photo of Sara Nejad

wow Lauren Ito, thank you so much for sending us this branding guide! We believe this will help us improve our concepts!
Regarding the cost-effectiveness of this solution, our initial research revealed that aluminum is a relatively cheap material globally, due to its abundance and recyclability. However, we plan to perform more concrete cost analysis by getting price quotes from different manufacturers, once we design our final prototype.