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12 winners in NextGen Cup Challenge reimagine the future of the fiber to-go cup

Winners represent innovations in cup liners, new materials, and reusable service models; six will be provided with support, testing, and piloting to get their solutions on shelf.

Solenis LLC creates a barrier coating that is recyclable and compostable.
Solenis LLC creates a barrier coating that is recyclable and compostable.

The NextGen Consortium, convened by Closed Loop Partners, has announced the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge—an open-sourced, global innovation challenge to redesign the fiber to-go cup and create a widely recyclable and/or compostable cup.

After a rigorous four-month review process by a group of judges that included NextGen Consortium business leaders, as well as experts in recycling, composting, and packaging, the challenge narrowed the nearly 500 submissions from over 50 countries down to 12 winners.

According to Closed Loop Partners, the winning solutions—broadly categorized intoinnovative cup liners, new materials, and reusable-cup service models—have the potential to turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into a valuable material in the recycling system.

Category One winners: Innovative Cup Liners

These companies are rethinking the polyethylene plastic liners in cups that can currently make to-go cups difficult to recycle.

  • C.E.E.R. Schisler, France creates a 100% paper cup that is home compostable and recyclable.
  • Colombier Group, Netherlands, Finland, creates a recyclable and compostable barrier for paperboard cups.
  • Footprint US, USA, creates cups, lids, and straws that are fully formed fiber-based solutions, with an aqueous-based coating that is recyclable and compostable.
  • Kotkamills Oy, Finland, creates plastic-free, recyclable, and compostable cupstock material that can be processed into cups using existing cup-making machines.
  • PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited, Thailand, creates a coated paper cup that is recyclable and home compostable.
  • Solenis LLC, USA, Belgium, creates a barrier coating that is recyclable and compostable.
  • Sun Chemical Corp., USA, creates inks and coatings that are recyclable and compostable.
  • WestRock Corp., USA, creates a recyclable and compostable paperboard solution to cups.

Category Two winners: New Materials

These companies are using cutting-edge, plant-based materials in their cups so that they are compostable.

  • Solublue Ltd., U.K., creates plant-based, food-grade, and non-toxic products that biodegrade after use.

Category Three winners: Reusable Cup Service Models

The cups made by these companies aren’t single-use, they just keep cycling—remaining in service by harnessing the power of technology and design.

  • CupClub, U.K., operates a returnable cup ecosystem, providing a service for drinks. Think bike sharing, but for cups.
  • reCup GmbH, Germany, operates a deposit system for reusable cups. Rent their cup and return it to any participating partner shop. No cleaning of the cup or carrying around required.
  • Revolv, Indonesia, Hong Kong (China), operates a deposit-based platform for smart, reusable beverage packaging, connecting their cups—and third-party products—to Internet of Things technologies.

Up to six winners will enter the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, where they’ll gain access to a network of experts, business and technical resources, and testing opportunities to ensure these innovations can successfully scale to serve the needs of the industry and maintain known and trusted performance standards.

The Challenge is just the first stage of the NextGen Consortium’s three-year effort. Next, the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, with testing and piloting opportunities, will help solutions get onto the shelf. Further, the Consortium is working with suppliers, recyclers, and composters to ensure that the winning solutions can get successfully recovered for the highest value. The Consortium will work together to support the needs of the recycling and composting system and identify ways to make it easy for consumers to choose the right bin.

Says John Kelly, Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs and Social Impact at Starbucks, “This is a notable milestone to achieve our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably, which is a particular passion for our over 350,000 Starbucks partners. We’re a founding partner of the NextGen Consortium because we believe it will take the scale and influence of many global companies to make recyclable, compostable to-go cups an industry standard rather than the exception.”

Many of the largest players in the food and beverage industry have united within the NextGen Consortium, making it a unique pre-competitive collaboration, Closed Loop Partners explains. Starbucks and McDonald’s were early investors and founding partners of the NextGen Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé, and Wendy’s joining as supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund acts as an advisory member of the Consortium, and OpenIDEO is an innovation partner.

“The level of interest we saw in the Challenge demonstrates a real appetite for long-lasting sustainable packaging solutions,” says Kate Daly, Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “This level of industry collaboration in support of the NextGen Cup Challenge is really exciting, and we look forward to building on this momentum to encourage more innovative solutions. Fully recoverable fiber to-go cups are just the beginning."

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