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The no-fiber fiber cup

What if the best fiber cup is actually a plastic cup?

Photo of Jason Grant
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Idea Title

Who needs a solid color when you can have swirls?

Idea Summary

What if a fiber cup was not the way to go? Even if we increased the rate of recycling for fiber cups, there are few MRFs which accept them, and thus there is a limited secondary market for the recover

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

Made from multiple recycled plastics, this cup is a standout!

I propose a well-designed cup made from 100% recycled food-grade plastics. Using these plastics in a secondary application has the dual benefit of encouraging an aftermarket for recycled plastics, and eliminating consumption of virgin materials. In addition, certified recycled food-grade plastics have already passed many regulatory hurdles. 

The unique marble-like appearance Inspired by the Precious Plastics project could make use of a range of plastics that may not have a high current market price due to color contamination, and gives the cup a standout appearance from fiber cups.

Made from 100% recycled food-grade plastics (compliant with both US and EU guidelines), these cups can be used for both hot and cold beverages. These cups can be made in a few standard sizes and thicknesses depending on market and application. They can be produced as a single-walled cup with built-in sleeves, or as a double-walled cup for improved thermal performance. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Cup Liner

How is your concept recoverable?

Option 1 - Designed to be more durable, shops could simply wash and reuse the cup at the facility, or the cup could be recaptured through a collection scheme around metropolitan areas (which multiple other teams are exploring). Option 2 - Outlasting a single use, customers could simply use it again. Current schemes to encourage reuse already exist at Starbucks and many independent coffee shops. If cleanliness is a concern, shops could implement a deposit system instead. Option 3 - Recycling. Made of 100% recycled materials, the cup will be easy to recycle multiple times, and uses an existing infrastructure for recapture.

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

For hot beverage applications, an integrated sleeve, or double-walled design would eliminate one part of a common takeout coffee cup, the sleeve. Further exploration is needed to explore an attached lid, which could also improve the rate of capturing another component for full recycling.

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

Based on preliminary research in the resources provided on the challenge site, food-grade plastics are approved for secondary uses in the US and EU on a case-by-case basis. Assuming the production of these cups meets all regulations, it would be approved in those two major markets. Additional research is needed for other regions.

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

Do you drink beverages? Then this cup is for you! If done right, consumers won’t be required to change habits. They can still get take away drinks, and we can leverage existing habits for recycling and reuse.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

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

At the moment my challenges are primarily technical. I would need to check on thermal performance and safety of a full-plastic cup. I also need to research which polymers are suited for hot beverage applications, and what is the minimum thickness to support hot beverages without deforming. I will also need to run a test with a MRF to verify the cup is fully recyclable, and of high value as the cup will contain mixed color plastics.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Sustainability and Recoverability
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping

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

I'm a User Experience designer who is also passionate about design solutions for the physical world, specifically around issues of sustainability and the circular economy.

In what city are you located?

New York

In what country are you located?


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

I would like to take this concept through prototyping and piloting to assess the market acceptance, as well as scalability. I believe gaining the public’s acceptance of recycled plastic products prove beneficial to keeping plastic out of the waste stream and reducing demand for virgin extracted resources.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Ronald Chen

how will the cost of these new plastic cups compare to the existing paper cups?