People toss out more than one million disposable plastic cups or throw-away cups every day and that’s just in the United States. When looking at statistics globally, the figures become truly staggering.
According to ecoffeecup.com, businesses manufacture one-half trillion disposable cups every year. The vast majority are single-use items. That means they end up in the trash and landfills. Billions of others wind up littering the landscape and making their way into the oceans.
Massive Tree Cutting Required
The majority of disposable cups contain 5% contain polyurethane plastic which are not recyclable. The bulk of a plastic-lines cup is made up of paper made from wood fibers. While this latter substance is biodegradable, it means that the paper industry chop four billion trees down every year. That’s 35% of all trees cut down for purposes other than building homes, furniture, boats, fences and other products.
The coffee-selling giant Starbucks alone uses more than eight million cups every day or about four billion cups per year. Add in other big players, from McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts and others, and the number of cups is astronomical.
Hearing the Environmental Wake Up Call
Thankfully, industry giants like these have heard the wake-up call. They understand that generating billions of cups per year that end up clogging landfills, littering the landscape and polluting the oceans is a problem in serious need of a solution.
Starbucks and McDonald’s have teamed up to create an organization called the NextGen Consortium. The goal is to produce the NexGen cup. This cup would be reusable, biodegradable and recyclable. To accomplish this goal, NextGen organized a competition seeking idea submission for building the perfect, eco-friendly cup. This includes design for sleeves, lids, liners, straws and other components.
$1 Million Prize Offered for Solutions
For incentive, a $1 million prize was offered. Last February, 12 participants will win and share the $1 million prize. Perhaps even more important than the cash, each of these cup makers will get a massive injection of support from the huge companies that make up the NextGen Consortium.
They will get scale-up help, distribution and logistics support and assistance with growth plans. In addition to Starbucks and McDonald’s, industry leaders like Wendy’s, Nestlé S.A. and Closed Loop Partners are all in.
High Tech to the Rescue
There will be a high-tech component to the effort. For example, the new-design cups will have QR codes or embedded chips that will track their lifecycle. That makes it far easier to find whether cups end up in special bins for recycling. In many cases, users would be able to wash and reuse the cups.
Effort Around the World
The effort is global. In the United Kingdom, a company called CupClub is aims to change the way Europeans use disposable cups. CupClub focuses on finding better ways to use reusable cups for both hot and cold drinks. They call their production process a “step-up” from the traditional way cups are made. It’s manufacturing processes generate half the amount of greenhouse gas CO2 than traditional methods.
Each CupClub container is designed to be used a minimum of 1,000 times. CupClub also picks up used cups and schedules drop-offs at strategic locations. Even the collection trips are set up to be as eco-friendly, using minimal fuel, including vehicles that run on alternative energy sources.
A German Solution
In Germany, a company called Recup believes they have a solution to the cup problem. It’s a simple but workable cup reuse system. Germany generates 2.8 billion cups per year. That’s about 10,000 cups every two minutes. It’s clear that they need to do something about the situation.
The Recup plan is an elegant three-step method. Customers first go to Google Play or the App Store to find out which providers use Recup. Next, customers go to a store and request a Recup. They pay a small fee for the eco-friendly cup but get a discount on their drink. Step three is to simply give the cup back to the store – or any other participating store – and the deposit fee is reimbursed. The store will wash and reuse the cup.
The ReCup is 100% recyclable plastic, BPA-free, extra light and shatterproof. You could use one cup for an average of 500 times.
Eco-Friendly Material Development
The other great goal is to find materials that are not plastic but perform at the same level. Several companies already have promising and usable formulas. One is the Earth Cup made in France. The Earth Cup is 100% home compostable and has the same performance profile as plastic-lined cups.
The Columbier Group in the Netherlands also has a water-based recyclable coating that can replace plastic linings in traditional cups.
More than a dozen other 100% biodegradable, compostable or recyclable cups have been developed by firms around the world.