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

Reduce, Reuse, Resoycle

A fiber cup with an added adhesive that allows customers to easily remove the wax coating once finished, making the cup fully recyclable.

Photo of Stephen Holtz
9 2

Written by

Idea Title

Fully-Recyclable Soy Cups

Idea Summary

This design solves recycling issues for traditional fiber cups by utilizing customers to complete the first and most important step of cup recycling - separating a soy wax liner from the fiber cup.

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

The design is almost identical to the fiber cups used today, with the addition of a second type of adhesive for the wax lining and a different type of wax lining used (with a small tab).

This new cup design uses two different types of adhesives to attach the wax coating to the fiber cup itself - one type of polyvinyl acetate and the traditional adhesive will be mixed during the traditional manufacturing process. Additionally, the petroleum-based wax currently used can instead be substituted by a soybean-based wax that is similar in function and consistency to the wax currently used. This soybean wax will help support US soybean farmers who have been heavily affected by the recent tariffs levied against China, who is the world's largest importer of soybeans. 

These cups will then ship out from their manufacturing center to whatever store they are sent to, where they are stored similarly to traditional fiber cups. These cups do not experience any change until a hot beverage is poured into the cup, when a drink is being served to a customer. The heat from the hot drink will weaken the polyvinyl acetate adhesive, but the second adhesive will keep the liner attached to the fiber body. The cup functions normally (fully waterproof) until the drink is finished, when the customer can then pull a little lab on the top of the cup lip to remove the liner. The weakened adhesive makes it easy to remove the liner, and the cup body without the liner will not have come into significant contact with the liquid.

Stores that carry this type of cup can have three different types of recycling and trash bins that make it easy for the customer to recycle their cups. One bin can hold all of the liners and the leftover coffee (the leftover coffee can also be poured out into a sink or different container). The second bin can contain the fiber component body of the cup, as well as the lids and cardboard holders that are used along with the cups. The final bin can be a trash bin, where straws and other non-recyclable items can be thrown away. These bins can be clearly labelled with the component that goes in them, and different signs both in-store and on the cups can inform the customer how to use properly recycle. For customers who do not dine-in, the instructions on the cup will clearly tell them how to properly dispose of the different components. 

Recycling companies can then collect all of the different recyclable components and process them correctly, without needing to separate anything. This will be a much more profitable process, and the most profitable components (the fiber cup body) will have very little liquid contact in their lifetime. The soybean wax can be recycled easily since it is hydrophobic, but it can also be composted (as it is biodegradable). The material produced can then go directly back to manufacturing centers, where they can be made into new cups with almost no material loss.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot Cup Only

How is your concept recoverable?

By separating the wax coating and the fiber cup, we can ensure the cup can be fully processed at the nearest recycling center without issue. The soybean wax lining is biodegradable, while the traditional wax lining is also recyclable. Since the lining is separated from the rest of the cup, the cup body will have minimum contact with the liquid originally in the cup, which means it is even more likely recycling facilities will accept and process them. The other cup components, like the cardboard holder and the lids, will be able to be recycled just like they are now. This design allows every component of the cup to be reclaimed in some way, while balancing the production cost of the cup.

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

The wax coating itself can be changed to a soybean wax lining, which will support the US's soybean farmers during our trade tariff war with China (the largest purchaser of soybeans in the world). This substitution also removes petroleum products from the cup itself. Other drink component decisions, like lids, cardboard holder, and the drinks sold can be decided on by the store themselves.

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

Even with the slight differences in production and materials, all regions that are able to process recycled paper could successfully process this cup and some of the other cup components. There shouldn't be any limitations on recycling location and instructions printed on the side of the cup will help ensure the customers will separate the different components before the cup is collected for recycling.

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

This product benefits all contributors to the life cycle of the cup. Cup manufacturers won't need to make major changes to their assembly and will have access to cheaper, recycled paperboard. Coffee shops will benefit because the price of the cup will stay the same, but the functionality may increase customer traffic and could even allow some shops to collect and sell the recycled cup components. The coffee shop customer will not be inconvenienced in any way related to the new cup design and can get a sense of fulfillment from aiding in the recycling process. Finally, the recycling company can easily process the new cup and profit off of the recycled material, which will improve margins.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Prototyping

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

Currently, the biggest challenges come from adapting current production facilities to ramp up production of the new design. Proof-of-concepts are currently being tested to ensure feasibility, and more research will need to be done to make sure end users will participate in the cup component separation. This design is currently only adapted for the hot fiber cup, but the technology can be extended to other cup types with future work.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Supply Chain
  • Growth and Scaling

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

I am a college student who is double majoring in mechanical engineering as well as product design and management. I have a real passion for design of all types and experience with physical product design in several different professional positions.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


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

If selected, the funding would go into making the cheapest model of the new design that can be scaled out to existing production facilities. The network gained while working with Consortium Partners will also prove to be invaluable during the first phase of the product's life. By working with small coffee shop owners, as well as larger companies like Starbucks and McDonalds, the product can be optimized for different uses and the technology can be extended to different coffee shop components.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


Join the conversation:

Photo of 병윤(ByungYun) 임(Lim)

Hi stephan.
The melting point of poly vinyl acetate is 135 celsius degree, so I think hot coffee's temperature may not sufficient to weaken adhesion.

Photo of Reid Christopher

You can took two cups one in another

View all comments