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McDonald’s and Starbucks piloting reusable cup program kick off in California

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MILAN – Starbucks and McDonald’s announced almost two years ago the NextGen Cup Challenge, a design competition that sought a recyclable solution to single-use paper cups. The pre-launch was in September 2018, and two of the 12 NextGen Cup Challenge winners – CupClub and Muuse – will start pilot programs this week in a handful of independent coffee shops in San Francisco and Palo Alto that utilizes “smart” reusable cups.

Additionally, in March, two NextGen Cup Challenge winners – Footprint LLC and PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited – will also begin pilots in cafes in Oakland, testing their single-use cup solutions that pioneer alternative materials for cups and cup liners that are recyclable and/or compostable. These ensure that the valuable materials in cups are kept in circulation and out of landfills and the natural environment.

One of the startups, called Muuse, will begin its trial at independent coffee shops in San Francisco. Its technology consists of QR codes on the cups that can be scanned when picking up or dropping off, and then the cups can be deposited at designated dropoff locations.

The other is a UK-based group called CupClub, which involves a similar process where coffee drinkers scan a RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tag at a pickup or dropoff point, and then stack cups when done. CupClub will start in Palo Alto, and the city will utilize the company’s yellow dropoff bins so the cups can be collected, cleaned, and redistributed to coffee shops.

In both models, the reusable cup get collected and are sanitized for reuse. The codes give data analysts important information about how often the cups are being used and where they’re being recycled more frequently.

“Scaling the next generation cup won’t happen overnight; the cup system is complex and calls for multiple layers of testing” states Starbucks in a press release. From the ability for baristas and customers to handle cups with ease, to alignment with diverse waste recovery systems after-use, testing is key. Reusable cup systems will need to be cost-competitive, integrate smoothly across diverse operations and technology platforms, minimize operational disruption, and have a positive impact on the environment and meet the convenience and performance standards customers know and trust in order to scale”.

These pilots build on the NextGen Consortium’s work to advance the development of new, alternative cup solutions through the necessary iterative loops of innovation and testing before scaling. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are founding partners, with The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy’s as supporting partners, The World Wildlife Fund as the advisory partner and global design firm IDEO as the innovation partner. IDEO is designing and running the pilots in the San Francisco Bay Area on behalf of the NextGen Consortium.

“We know finding a more sustainable cup solution will continue to require partnership and innovative thinking,” says Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks. “The ongoing work from the NextGen Cup Consortium provides valuable insights and learnings for all the members, us included, as we continue to explore a variety of ways to better manage our waste and reduce our environmental footprint.”

“We’re excited to see many of the winning ideas become potential solutions that can be tested in a customer-facing environment,” says Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, McDonald’s North America. “Finding a cup that can be scaled will require continued innovation, testing and honing of solutions, so these pilots are an important step forward on that journey.”

Together, the NextGen Consortium’s unprecedented collective of brands are helping to shape the ultimate form these cup innovations will take in the world. “As we strive to build a more circular economy in which we design out waste, unique partnerships are essential,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners. “Our work to engage diverse stakeholders, from brands to universities to NGOs, ensures that we create the necessary robust testing framework to help these cup teams succeed.”

These pilots represent one important initiative within the broader work of the NextGen Consortium to create long-lasting, positive change across the cup system. The NextGen Consortium takes a systems view, pairing upstream product innovation with downstream recovery infrastructure. The Consortium brings together leading food and beverage companies to work together pre-competitively to identify and scale solutions that work for the whole industry.