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Incentivise re-use and recycling

To create a recycling mechanism and incentivise customers to use it.

Photo of Hoagy Scoins
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Idea Title

Incentivise re-use and recycling

Idea Summary

Even a compostable cup will not decompose in a landfill; the most successful solution will see few cups reaching the landfill, more re-use, AND bio-degradable cups.

My proposal has three elements.

1:  Incentivise re-use.

Let us suppose that a cup of coffee costs $5.  I propose increasing the cost where a disposable cup is used (say, to $6), and decreasing the cost where a re-usable cup is used (to$4).  Some cafes in my area already do this.

The regular customer makes a saving by making the envirnmentally responsible choice, and the retailer benefits from their repeat business.  Note that this proposal both rewards the behaviour we want, and penalises the behaviour we don’t.

2:  Swap’n’go.

When the re-usable cup is damaged, the customer may bring it back to the retailer and exchange it for a new one at no charge.

This keeps the system going, e.g., the customer continues to enjoy discounted coffee, and the retailer continues to receive their custom.  More importantly, it ensures that the damaged cup does not go to the landfill – the retailer can ensure that it is properly recycled.

3:  Cup Design

I propose that the cup have a stainless steel inner (for hygeine) and a cork outer layer.  Cork is waterproof, an excellent insulator, is pleasant to the touch, and is of course a natural material.  Why not cork only?  Simply because it might be difficult to wash and might harbour bacteria over time.

A steel-and-cork sipping lid would fit snugly over the cup.  Because the sleeve is slightly shorter than the steel cup, a sufficiently airtight seal may be achieved.

The main reason I propose this design though is that it is easy to separate out the technical and biological elements for recycling (the steel), and either recycling or composting (the cork).

My prototype uses corkoleum, a cork-and-rubber flooring material.  This is probably too expensive for mass-production though.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Cup Lids
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Cup Liner
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

If the styrofoam cup could be recycled (for instance, by mealworms – an idea someone else might like to pick up?) it doesn’t change what is fundamentally a bad system, e.g., we make stuff out of plastic at great ecological expense and then look for band-aids. With the cup I propose the steel is recyclable, and the cork can be composted (as per cradle-to-cradle design). Cork is a renewable resource - we can simply plant more cork oaks if we need more.

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

The system (reward “good” behaviour, replace old cups for free) provides a financial reward to customers and should increase customer retention for the retailer. Thus, both are motivated to uphold the system. By motivating customers to return their old / damaged cups rather than trash them, the retailer can ensure they are properly recycled / composted.

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

Auckland (mostly because I live there, but also), because it provides a range of conditions, e.g., food trucks, chain coffee shops, coffee shops in malls / office lobbies / outer suburbs, etc.

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

Essentially, people who want coffee on the go are the target market. My observation suggests that cafes in a strip mall do a lot of take-out business, as do truck stops, petrol stations, and coffee trucks in the CBD. Cafes where people tend to sit and eat - and use pottery cups - are not really the issue here. User experience might be further enhanced, e.g., the re-usable cup is your badge of “membership”, entitling you to receive additional member benefits beyond the discount (e.g., buy 1 get 1 free after ten coffees; free muffin if you buy more than one coffee per transaction; etc.)

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?

A large stock of re-usable cups of appropriate design is needed to trial this. Any could be used to test the discounting element, but for swap’n’go the ease of recycling the cork / steel design needs a cork/steel cup to test it out on.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Branding / Marketing and Storytelling

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

I have coached lean thinking, primarily in service industries, for many years. Recently I have become more interested in design, holism and zero-waste.

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

The funding would allow me to focus more fully on realising this idea. I would focus first on prototyping solutions, beginning with the point of sale. I would fine-tune the pricing, product and process. The simplest thing would be to buy a coffee business. Secondly I would focus on the supply, and thirdly on the recycling processes.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Other

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Daniel Grosso

Hi Hoagy Scoins , I agree we should be charging more for disposable cups. After all we don't fully pay for the externalities that cup waste costs the planet (i.e. large islands of waste in our oceans, lands destroyed due to landfill etc.). It is easier than you think to start a returnable cup scheme at your local cafes. All it takes is to ask if local businesses will accept returnable, reusable cups to wash and then to ask the community to donate any unused cups. A small amount of returnable cups can create a large impact in your community. All the best driving change in your community! Thanks for being apart of it!