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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?

Richmond

In what country are you located?

USA

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)

9 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of 병윤(ByungYun) 임(Lim)
Team

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.

Spam
Photo of Reid Christopher
Team

You can took two cups one in another

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

Does this cup break down more rapidly than current standard cups used ?

Spam
Photo of Stephen Holtz
Team

Hi Anthony,

The fiber body of the cup breaks down at the same rate as a current cup, but the liner breaks down much more rapidly than then wax liners currently used. A cup design that breaks down more rapidly would be awesome, but those cups already exist and are much too expensive to be fully adopted by industry (due to cost of production).

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

There is a lot of work being done on bio-plastics from corn that starts breaking down with three days, but at the moment can not be extruded the tradition way. Once they can the, this may be something that can be combine with your ideas. Great product

Spam
Photo of Koldun Victor
Team

An ordinary cardboard cup breaks down in the natural environment roughly in a year or thereabout. Approximately how the fallen leaves does, consisting of the same cellulose. In order for the new material for the production of cups to become a cost effective replacement of cardboard, it should decompose order faster, somewhere in a month, maybe two or three. This is at an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (according to NASA). But when we pour water near a boiling point, at a temperature of 95 degrees, into such cup , according to the rule of Svante August Arrhenius, all the chemical processes in it, including the self-decay of complex molecules, respectively, accelerate. The minimum acceleration will be somewhere 250 times, and the maximum will be about 65,000 times. That is, for a disposable cup that has been filled for at least an hour, and this is a real situation somewhere on a picnic, there is all the chances to pour out their content on the table at best , at worst, on himself or his electronic devices. Even if this cup was made a few days before that and was stored in a stock in perfect conditions.
Therefore, the question arises - how do you deal with such issue?

Spam
Photo of Stephen Holtz
Team

Hi Koldun,

Firstly, the prompt was to make a cup that is reclaimable for the highest benefit, which puts a focus on recycling. The fiber material is the exact same material as the cups currently used, since any changes would significantly affect manufacturing speed and associated costs, meaning they will be more expensive and less likely to be widely-adopted. Additionally, a focus on being recyclable will limit wasted resources. Since ordinary cups break down in about a year, that time frame is sufficient if they were accidentally thrown away. Finally, the wax coating in traditional cups take much longer to biodegrade, while the soybean liner used here can decompose much faster than the fiber cup.

Secondly, as a materials engineer, I understand the information you are attempting to provide but none of it applies to this design. The fiber cup shell, which provides the structural integrity of the cup, will function just like cups currently do. Even if a hot drink or multiple hot drinks were poured into the cup, they would not fail. The only chemical reaction that occurs is one of the two adhesives that keep the soybean wax lining on the cup, which will only happen when temperatures exceed 125 degrees. The average temperature of hot coffee is 150 degrees, which does the trick in loosening the liner from the fiber cup. Again, this does not remove the liner or the liner's ability to prevent the fiber cup from being saturated, which means a user can take their time in drinking their beverage. The only difference, at all, is that the liner can be separated from the fiber cup after the beverage is finished, ensuring the cup can be easily processed at almost all recycling facilities worldwide.

Spam
Photo of Anthony Zammit
Team

Sorry, I must have missed what wax is used, How would it effect the taste if dissolved by high temperature?

Spam
Photo of Stephen Holtz
Team

Hi Anthony,

Think of the soy wax liner as a sheet applied to the inside of the fiber cup body, attached using two different types of adhesives. The first adhesive will hold in high temperatures, while the second adhesive loses its bonding strength when exposed to an environment of hot coffee. The wax liner does not break down at all - one of the two adhesives connected it to the fiber body will. This allows the liner to be separated from the fiber body when recycling. So, to answer your question, the soy wax will not break down at all, meaning the taste or composition of the drink being enjoyed will not change at all.