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This is NOT a Recyclable Cup

Clarify what is and is not recyclable and make people aware that their cups are going to landfills.

Photo of Mingjun Gao
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Idea Title

Idea Summary

Add a stamp onto togo cups to clarify that they are not recyclable since many people do so, causing more problems for the recycling center and giving them a false sense of being sustainable.

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)

Ideation of redesigning the cup

People can be better guided on the material/making process of the fiber cups by adding more instructions and better informed that the cup it is not recyclable so to change this behavior of using too many fiber cups with no second thought. 

To achieve our goal, we would:

1) create social events about the current fiber cups, 

2) change the current design of the current fiber cups by adding notes that “this cup is not recyclable” (even though it looks like it is just paper)

What To do:

a.To help the customer understand the recycle process in order to change their behavior 

b. To have “ This is NOT a recyclable cup” stamps on fiber cups 

c. To curate multiple shows of works made by fiber cups in order to raise the awareness with complimentary stamps giveaway

Exhibition Inspiration:

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • All of the Above

How is your concept recoverable?

Most people we interviewed didn't know the fiber cups are not recyclable, including those do recycle on a daily basis. The paper sleeves with recyclable marks also would mislead the customer to throw the cup into recycle. We found the opportunity to better inform the customers that the cup itself is not recyclable.

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

We break down our concepts into two parts, 1) we need regulations that the fiber cup has to have "not recyclable" marks on the cup body and it works universally 2) We plan to curate art shows with works made by fiber cups with the exact amount of the cups that local store would use for one week. By visualizing the amount of waste the customer produce in a short amount time, people would reduce the use of fiber cups later on.

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

The government would have less landfill. The big coffee house who sponsor the shows would gain reputation on sustainability. Customers, especially those want to recyclable would have better education on it.

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?

Support with Scaling. Government Support Coffee House Industry Support.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Sustainability and Recoverability
  • Branding / Marketing and Storytelling
  • Growth and Scaling
  • Legal
  • Fundraising / Finance

In what city are you located?

New York, NY

In what country are you located?


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

We will use the funding 1) to design visually attractive new fiber cups to remind the customer those cups are not recyclable 2) to call artists and curate exhibition in local communities.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email
  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


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