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A new cup design with a removable aluminum liner that allows materials to be recycled appropriately and separately.

Photo of Cindy Lam
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Written by

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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

What is it?

A new cup design with a removable aluminum liner that allows materials to be recycled appropriately and separately. The design of the cup will also provide the user with information on material sourcing.

How does it work?

The aluminum liner can be easily removed from the cup so the materials can be recycled appropriately. The aluminum insulates heat and help keeps the shape of the cup, it's easy to remove and non-toxic. According to a specialist from Sunset Park's Sims Municipal Recycling facility, one of the biggest facilities in NY, metal materials are the most easily detected material in current recycling facilities. That means, there are no need for new facilities!

The design of the cup would have information on the materials used. It would also have simple sentences with "I" statements, have upbeat and approachable tone, while educating customers.

Examples of writing on the cup:

  • "I was born in a factory in ___"
  • "You can recycle me when you're done!"
  • "I am 100% recyclable."
  • "I can be recycled and become part of other important products!"

Why is it important to our users?

With this new cup design, it will educate the users to recycle, learn about the materials being used, and not contribute to waste. Also, when they are using this cup, they know they are contributing to an eco-friendly system!


Through this extra step of separating lining and cup after each use, we're educating people about the core problem of non-recycle-ability with most cups that are available today. A lot of the solutions today, like compostable cups, only creates an illusion by bringing up mysterious new materials that make people feel good. Not knowing that, if it ends up in a facility without certain capabilities, it will add more burden to landfill.

Our cup informs people and provides a transparent recycling system.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot Cup Only
  • Cup Liner
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

The concept is recoverable because the Peel-a-Cup makes it easy for users to recycle and we're educating people to recycle correctly. Right now, the paper cup is not recycled properly. Most paper cups have plastic liners that need special machinery to recycle and in most facilities, they're not able to do so. There's also a misconception by a majority of the population that the paper cup can be recycled! It's unfortunate but billions of paper cups just end up in landfill.

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

We are using ethically sourced materials and we would want our users to know! That is the reason we would want the design of the cup to provide the user with information on the materials used. It would potentially attract users when they know what materials are used.

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

We want to target urban areas in the United States since they are the biggest users non-recyclable to go cups.

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

We want to target users who care about the environment and want to do their part, but often need to pick convenience over sustainability due to a lack of time, knowledge, or money. Through user research, we found that most people care but they just lack ways to recycle properly or most people are too lazy to do it and just feel guilty about it. With our design, users can now easily recycle without extra time or cost.

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?

1. A Peeling Mechanism - We have to figure out which is the best and efficient way to peel the liner out. 2. Behavior Change - We are conditioned to use a paper cup and throw it out. There is a need for behavioral change to make this work.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping

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

We are a group of students from NYU Tandon School of Engineering. With backgrounds in business, film, physics, graphic design, and transportation, we were able to contribute to this challenge from a diverse point of views.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?

United States

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

Key Steps: 1) Nail down the most efficiently produced prototype. 2) Get in contact with manufacturers who are able to produce in large quantity. 3) Find eco-friendly local shops to release and test the first batch of cups. Our goal is to change customer behavior by educating people to recycle properly, thus minimizing non-reusable cup waste. If we get people to change their behavior and recycle more, that would be a success for us.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thank you for sharing Cindy Lam I like your idea and am curious to see how it evolves with more research and prototyping. You might want to check James McBennett  idea as the concept is similar Interesting also to see you looking at aluminum as it's a material that Sara Nejad and her team are considering for their AluCup You might be able to join forces while exploring the material. Looking forward to seeing how your idea evolves.

Photo of Cindy Lam

Thank you Anne-Laure Fayard !
I was browsing the different ideas and Ù│æý£ñ(ByungYun) ý×ä(Lim) had a similar idea to us! Aluminium laminated paper cup for environment and human health 
There is a slight difference between ours and his but in both, the liner is aluminum! His prototypes/products look amazing! Hopefully (if he doesn't mind) he can give us some ideas/insight on how to make the liner look sharp and crisp like his!

We've tried a few times (as you can see on the videos) but the result is always the aluminum foil scrunched up. We are planning to 3D print some molds so we can make the liners quicker and smoother. We're hoping that goes a bit better!