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

Sustainable Cup: Clay Cup & Starch Coating

To use 100% sustainable material to build the coffee cup with possible materials include clay for cup body and starch for coating.

Photo of Mingjun Gao
4 1

Written by

Idea Title

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

New York University, Tandon School of Engineering

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

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Cup Liner

How is your concept recoverable?

To substitute the existing fiber cup with Option A: a clay cup Option B: a paper cup with starch coating

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

Solution uses mass produced and 100 % sustainable materials

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

To sell the idea to big coffee shops, convince them to replace the fiber cups

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

The government The costumer who is afraid of losing/cleaning their own containers for coffee The big coffee house would benefit from a eco-friendly branding and reputation

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Supply Chain
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping
  • Growth and Scaling

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

Four grad students from NYU's Design Thinking class with Prof. Anne-Laure Fayard:

In what city are you located?

New York, NY

In what country are you located?


How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rida Fatima Umer

Thank you for your interest Anne-Laure Fayard and Lauren Ito :).
Clay cups are an age old solution to the menace of plastic pollution and their origin dates back to ancient times even before the Indus Valley Civilization. Clay is essentially a naturally existing mineral in soil. While sand lies on one end of the spectrum , the clay lies on the other , both vary in particle size but both are naturally existing elements of soil. Since clay comes from the earth itself and is all-natural, going back to the earth and rejoining the soil is a totally eco-friendly cycle. Clay cups already exist in Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh etc and are used for serving both the hot as well as cold beverages and desserts. It withstands the hot and cold temperatures and traditionally does not come with a cup holder or handle since it retains the temperature of liquid/solid inside it without affecting its outer layer that you hold. Traditionally, these clay cups are unglazed from the inside as well as the outside and come in pure natural earthy form, however, these days they are also available in different colors and shape and are available in glazed version too. Some clay cup makers add powdered red cement and salt just to add color and to further harden the cup while others like to make it in pure clay forms. In Pakistan and India, clay cups have long been used to serve chai (hot tea) and clay bowls have been used to serve kheer (a dessert served cold), and are cost effective , easy to make and easy to purchase. These clay cups are reusable and once the consumer wants to waste them, they can simply throw these cups without having to worry about harming the environment. The porous layers of the clay cup traps bacteria and its natural content makes it hygienic too. They are made out of hot fired clay in the kiln. The clay cup makers are mostly poor men and women in rural areas for whom clay cups and bowls are a source of income that feeds their children and make sit possible for them to go to school. In the recent years, the plastic cups were replacing the clay cups in these regions too but there is a wave of cultural revival in Pakistan and a few place sin India too to bring the eco friendly clay cups back in fashion. Even the big cities in Pakistan like Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi have joined this wave of reviving the clay cup through a clever marketing tactic; cafe's and restaurants and food businesses have coined the term 'tandoori chai' to attract the rich and poor alike where they offer the consumers hot chai (tea) ,in clay cups ,that is heated on coal. The young generation found the experience unique and cool while the elder generation cherished good pleasant memories they had of drinking chai in clay cups with their group of family and friends. By reviving its clay cup culture, Pakistan is hoping to achieve two fold benefit. 1) It hopes to reduce the plastic pollution by replacing plastic with a eco friendly , cost effective, easily scale able solution like clay cups, and 2) It seeks to create employment generation for poor men and women in rural areas and villages who would otherwise live a miserable life or stoop to beggary or crime by engaging them in income generating activities that benefit from their existing skill set. This income generation helps not just them but their next generation too , once they have money they start sending their children to school who would otherwise have been hungry or involved in crime. An adoption of a similar model could potentially help US too to get rid of plastic and replace it with environment friendly solutions and to create employment opportunities for the homeless and poor people. As part of the project we have made one cup in US and 2 cups in Pakistan, and have ordered about 2 dozen cups from Pakistan that we will demonstrate in one of our teams' events at NYU. We plan to offer free coffee in these clay cups to our guests in the event and get their feedback and learn from their experience respectively.
I hope that answered your query :).

View all comments