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NextGen Cup Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find a list of frequently asked questions submitted by community members from around the world. 

If you have a question for OpenIDEO, Closed Loop Partners or Consortium Partners Starbucks and McDonald's, please email us directly at NextGenCup@IDEO.com


Legal and IP Questions: 

Will you own the Intellectual Property associated with my proposed solution?

  • No, you own that. No Partner in NextGen will have any ownership rights over your IP.

I’m still concerned about my IP. How will you protect my company’s ideas?

  • We value and respect your intellectual property. However, for the first phase of the application, we ask that you submit non-confidential high-level overview information about your proposal, including your company name the basic outline of your proposed solution. If more detailed information about your idea is required in the next stage of review, we will work with you to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect your confidential information.

I’m concerned about section 1 in the Terms and Conditions where it states that IDEO can alter the terms at any time. What does this mean?

  • On the very rare occasion IDEO has made changes to terms, it has been with the intention to further clarify the terms in the interest of the Challenge participants. Because of the volume of participants, it becomes very difficult to inform users on a one on one basis, and as such IDEO includes language that permits them to make changes and notify participants immediately following these changes.

I’m concerned about section 3 in the Terms and Conditions where it states that IDEO can use my content in perpetuity. What does this mean?

  • This means that IDEO reserves the rights to share a brief summary of your company and team if and when said team is selected as a winner of the Challenge. This is for the purposes of publicizing and celebrating the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge at appropriate events and across different media. IDEO also reserves the right to include a summary of your concept on the Challenge web site and in newsletters or other promotional content for the Challenge, as you may have seen in an email last week. IDEO will NOT share any information from “non-public” concepts aside from the title without consent.  

I see the emphasis on “not submitting confidential information”, what does this mean?

  • The content that you are submitting in the Ideas Phase of the Challenge should be information that you are comfortable sharing with IDEO, Closed Loop Partners, Consortium Partners and a panel of judges. The public submission track allows for your submitted content to be viewable by the public, while the non-public option prevents your submission content from being viewable to the public and instead is viewable only to the aforementioned group of partners for judging purposes only. Because your ideas will be reviewed by several people, including judges and members of the NextGen team, we encourage participants not to submit information they are uncomfortable sharing with a panel of reviewers.

Section 19 “Confidentiality” of your terms seems to conflict with section 3 “Sharing Content”. Please explain?

  • You retain ownership of your IP, and are allowing sponsors and (if publicly submitted) other users on the platform rights to learn from and build upon your ideas. If you do not want to participate in this public platform, please only submit information that you are comfortable sharing with a cohort of Judges, and Challenge Partners to the “Non-Public” channel. There is no transfer of IP ownership to IDEO or any other partner by participating in the Challenge. All users retain intellectual property ownership.


In-Scope Solutions and Criteria Questions: 

How do you define fiber cups?

  • Wood fibers are typically cellulosic elements extracted from trees and used to make materials including paper. The hot and cold fiber cup, also called the paper cup, is typically a single-use, disposable cup comprised of fiber and wax or plastic linings to prevent leaks.

What are your criteria on recyclability?

  • Applicants should review the Additional Resources page to identify relevant standards and certifications for recyclability.

Does 'recoverable' mean reused? Or can 'recoverable' mean composted?

  • After a customer discards a fiber cup, the collection, processing and use of the cup's raw material components is referred to as recovery. For the hot and cold fiber cup to be recoverable and kept out of landfills, its raw material components must have value to end markets that can use the materials and to the various businesses that would meet the needs of those markets. Recovery markets can include, but aren't limited to, recycling and composting. Reuseable cups do fall into the category of recoverable.

What is the primary priority, recyclability or compostability?

  • The Challenge seeks to identify the best solutions to recover fiber cups whether through recycling or composting, understanding that those options vary by region and available recovery infrastructure.

There are products already commercially available in the marketplace right now that are certified compostable, use renewable resources, have the performance of non-compostable cups, and are price competitive. What's different about the products you are interested in?

  • Standard fiber cups have a plastic lining to prevent liquids from leaking and the cup becoming soggy. Although they may be recycled or composted in some markets, in the vast majority of regions the infrastructure doesn’t exist to recover these materials. While recycled fiber and plastic are valuable, what’s currently recoverable from cups doesn’t sell for much, so there’s no strong incentive for recyclers to recover the materials.

Are you looking for a single outcome? Or could it be a staged roll out, or multi- faceted solution?

  • We anticipate there may be a diversity of cup solutions that could have staged roll-outs to accommodate evolving recovery infrastructure and varying geographic regions.

Can solutions address both the hot and cold cup?

  • Yes! Solutions must be recoverable and address the fiber-based hot and cold cup; however, ideas may also include cup lids, sleeves, straws, liners, and/or consider reuse and alternative delivery systems. Ideas may consider hot and cold cups separately.

The program seems to be geared towards re-designing the cup only. Are projects that redesign the collection system eligible?

  • The Challenge focuses on cup solutions. Solutions outside that focus aren't eligible for prize money but would be of interest to the NextGen Consortium to review as part of our overall assessment of infrastructure opportunities outside the scope of the Challenge. Applicants to the Challenge should include details on recovery options for their product.

Is the ideal solution a new disposable design or a behavior changing non-disposable design?

  • Solutions must be recoverable and address the fiber-based hot and cold cup; however, ideas may also include cup lids, sleeves, straws, liners, and/or consider reuse and alternative delivery systems.

For the Ideas Phase (the first phase of submissions), do we need a prototype ready, or are concepts OK?

  • For the Ideas Phase (phase 1) we are requiring at minimum a visual representation of your concept. This includes but is not limited to images, diagrams, or 2D / 3D graphics. Of course a more developed prototype can only help to increase your odds of advancing, so we encourage you to begin planning this early. For the Refinement Phase (phase 2), we will be requiring evidence of a physical prototype of your solution, along with evidence of testing and feedback with users.


Material, Performance and Technical Questions: 

What are the specific "performance standards" that the McDonald's and Starbucks need for the cup?

  • Your application should include information on how this solution will work from a technical standpoint. We will be looking for concepts that meet or exceed food-service industry health, safety, and performance standards. In general, we will be assessing concepts from a holistic standpoint, examining the entire business case, environmental impact, and scalability. Please see our Additional Resources to help you get started. Below you’ll find some technical features that should be incorporated into a new cup solution:
    • Temperature range: Up to 212°F (100°C).  
    • Durability/Shelf Life:
      • Unfilled (inventory): 6 months to 1 year
      • Filled: 3+ hours (packaging designed for single use)
    • Printability (i.e. ability to accommodate a logo): Certain inks may impact a product’s compostability. Participants should consider the end-to-end viability of their technologies, including any factors that may impact end-of-life goals. 

Are you open to using materials other than fiber to help solve the challenge of today's beverage cups not being recycled?

  • Yes! The Solutions must address the hot and cold fiber cup. Proposals may include reuse and alternative delivery systems made of non-fiber materials. We are open to new material types or delivery systems that serve the purpose the fiber cup currently serves.

The NextGen Consortium members have tested cup solutions in the past. Why were none of those solutions viable? What can I learn from those efforts to inform my solution?

  • The foodservice industry has been working toward a more sustainable cup for many years, but we have yet to find a solution that addresses the structural and commercial systems that produce, collect and recover our cups. The industry’s stringent health, safety and performance standards–designed to keep us all safe–also make it challenging for a new commercially viable solution to be brought to life at a global scale. Since different markets have varying recycling capabilities, we may need more than one solution to fit all countries’ circumstances. NextGen Cup brings together the relevant players to enable new cup solutions that accommodate different regional systems and produce materials worth recovering.

Will you consider alternative fibers such as Hemp?

  • We are interested to see solutions that use a diversity of materials that meet the performance standards and other criteria of the Challenge.  

Would it be ok to apply with development of plastic linings?


  • Submissions must be recyclable and compostable. Liner solutions may be submitted as part of a proposal for an overall cup system and should be recyclable and compostable.

Are there already defined guidelines on which certification institutions/standard methods would accepted to validate repulpability and compostability?

  • There are numerous guidelines and standards that Challenge applicants may reference in their applications. Please see our Additional Resources & Links page for detailed information. 

US performance standards are regulated by the food and drug administration. I think the EU might have stricter standards than the US. Do Starbucks and McDonald's prefer ideas adhere to U.S. FDA requirements or the stricter EU Standards?

  • The Challenge’s Evaluation Criteria note the standards of both certifications. We anticipate diverse solutions may target different geographic areas and applicants are welcome to submit solutions that adhere to either or both standards. On the NextGen Cup Ideas Phase Submission Questions page we outline the different approaches applicants may take, including:
    • Global: Solutions are designed to be implemented on a global scale. Solutions have considered the diverse needs of international markets, and have developed a strategy to be recoverable within varying infrastructures around the world. 
    • Regional: Solutions consider a local approach to solving regional issues with the to-go cup. These solutions will be designed to meet the experiential and performance needs of a particular market, and have been designed to be recoverable in that specific region. 
    • Other: These solutions may not yet know whether they are applicable on a global scale or within a particular region, and will seek to answer these questions through further testing and iterations during the course of the Challenge. Solutions here may also include alternative reuse or delivery systems, or address partial components of the cup system, such as new liner materials.

What carbon footprint metrics will be used for transportation of goods in all aspects of the supply chain?

  • In the application you will be asked to state how you have incorporated additional sustainability material attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution. For example: "Solution uses ethically sourced materials and has acquired FSC certifications." "Solution incorporates non-petroleum based liners." You may reference carbon footprint metrics related to your solution in the application. 

What metrics will be used for the number of times a cup pulp can be repurposed and what will be measured for those cups that must be retired?

  • Any information you provide on how your cup solution will align with recycling and composting infrastructure will be a helpful part of your application. For those solutions that advance to later stages of the Challenge and/or to the Accelerator, there will be further opportunity to review post-use durability in material cycling.

Will this Challenge include recovery and reuse of products, or should ideas be confined to product (cup) redesign?

  • Solutions must address the design, materials, and technical requirements of the hot and cold fiber cup currently used in a retail setting. Your application should also state what recovery and/or reuse options are viable for your proposed solution. Proposals may include reuse and alternative delivery systems.


Post-Challenge Accelerator Questions: 

I’d like to apply for the NextGen Challenge but I’m not interested in participating in the Accelerator. Can I still get involved?

  • Yes. There is no obligation for any Challenge applicant or winner to enter the Accelerator. Up to six Challenge winners will be invited to participate in the Accelerator and they may choose whether they would like to participate or not. 

If I don’t get selected as a Challenge Top Idea winner may I still apply separately to participate in the Accelerator?

  • No, only Challenge winners will be invited to join the Accelerator since they have already been through an extensive review process. 

If I don’t join the Accelerator will I still have access to piloting opportunities?

  • Yes, on a case-by-case basis some Challenge winners outside the Accelerator may be invited to participate in piloting opportunities with Consortium partners. 

Is it a requirement of entry into the Accelerator that I allow NextGen partners to invest in my company?

  • No. Although Closed Loop Partners, Managing Partner of the NextGen Consortium, typically reserves the right to take equity in companies participating in the firm’s Circular Business Accelerator, NextGen Challenge participants will not be required to provide an equity stake, warrant, or other investment commitment. Challenge and Accelerator participants are still eligible for consideration for investment if they so choose.