Big chains offer $1M for greener cup

Big chains offer $1M for greener cup

Winning solution gets funding and business acceleration support

Having set their own goals for sustainability, large restaurant chains across the country are banding together to help find solutions to the disposables dilemma.

For example, restaurant companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Yum! Brands Inc., and Wendy’s have joined The Coca-Cola Company, Nestle and the World Wildlife Fund to find a better disposable cup.

To-go cups in the foodservice world are particularly problematic. Most have a plastic lining that keeps the cup from getting soggy but that lining also prevents the cup from be recycled or being fully compostable. An estimated 250 billion of such cups are distributed each year in cafes and restaurants and wherever drinks are served.

Enter the NextGen Cup Challenge. The sponsors offered $1 million in funding and business acceleration support to the designer of a sustainable “next generation” fiber cup that could be used for hot and cold beverages; one that will perform well and could be recoverable on a global scale.

Earlier this year, 12 winners were selected, most proposing recyclable and compostable paper cups, lids and straws that eliminate the problematic plastic lining.

Some proposals, however, included the creation of a returnable-cup ecosystem, in which consumers return cups to certain drop points for reuse, or a cup rental system, where guests pay a deposit, but get that money back if they return the cup.

It remains to be seen whether any of these products will be scaled to market. Meanwhile, the restaurant companies are working toward their own publicized goals for reducing disposable waste.

McDonald’s has reduced packaging material by shifting to a lighter design and pledging to use renewables and recyclable packaging by 2025, as well as putting recycling bins in all restaurants. In Germany, the chain is testing the use of a reusable cup with a deposit.

Wendy’s eliminated use of polystyrene in 2012 and, more recently, has reduced fiber and plastic in several of its packaging, such as fry cartons, straws and bags.

Starbucks hopes to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to market within three years, a process that will be open source so other companies can benefit. The Seattle-based chain is currently testing a new paper cup with a bio-liner, made partially from plant-based materials, that could make it more broadly recyclable.

But the process still has a long way to go to make sure it meets safety, quality and environmental standards, the company said.

“Developing a plant-based liner that stands up to hot liquids and is commercially viable is incredibly hard, but we believe the solution is out there, not just for cups, but for other exciting applications, like making straws greener, in the future,” said Rebecca Zimmer, director of global environmental impact, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Starbucks is also working with the National League of Cities to advocate for model legislation and best practices to increase access to recycling programs across the country.

The current patchwork of regulations that vary city to city make it difficult for customers to know where and when to recycle or compost their cups.

“The National League of Cities is eager to work with Starbucks and other leaders to create a playbook and implement proven practices for sustainable waste management that provide economic benefit and positive environmental impact,” said Clarence Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities, in a statement.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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