Last July, Starbucks made a major announcement that they’re ditching their signature green plastic straws by 2020—instead, all drinks will be outfitted with sippy cup lids. Then, a few weeks later, the coffee giant doubled down on their commitment to sustainability by teaming up with McDonald’s to create a totally recyclable, compostable cup. (While both McDonald’s and Starbucks cups are technically recyclable, they rarely make it into the appropriate bin—sometimes because components like the straw and lid don’t belong there.)

So, back in September, Starbucks launched the NextGen Cup Challenge, which encouraged businesses of any scale to contribute eco-friendly cup ideas—and 12 finalists have been chosen! The entries aimed to “push the boundaries of sustainable design and find innovative cup solutions,” according to a Starbucks press release, and each offers one of three solutions: one group created innovative cup liners (the polyethylene plastic liners in most to-go coffee cups make them difficult to recycle); a second camp focused on new materials (particularly plant-based substances that are fully compostable); and a third aimed to reinvent reusable cups.

About that third group. One company pitched a “returnable cup ecosystem” called CupClub that sounds a bit like bike-sharing. Another business, Revolv, suggested a platform where you take your coffee to-go and return the cup to a cleaning station when you’re done. The system is integrated with an app that helps you locate the nearest deposit spot. Then there’s reCup—an idea out of Germany—where you rent a cup and return it to any participating partner shop.


The business with the best idea will receive $1 million in funding to develop its concept, working closely with both Starbucks and McDonald’s on a cup that will ultimately be available in stores.

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