Search Continues for the Greenest Coffee Cup

April 14, 2019
Search Continues for the Greenest Coffee Cup

Most current disposable coffee cups are not “green.”  Many contain liners that will not easily recycle or decompose.  Considering that over 250 billion are used each year by restaurants and cafés, this presents a serious environmental problem.  In 2018, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and several other organizations got together for the NextGen Cup Challenge (see our previous post about the contest).

The objective: to find environmentally friendly coffee cups.

The approach: to either make the disposable coffee cup easier to recycle by developing better liners, use new materials, or to develop a reusable cup model.

Four hundred eighty teams attempted the contest.  Twelve winners were selected.  They will be receiving a portion of up to one million dollars in funding to further develop their ideas. See this OpenIDEO post for summaries of the winning products.

This post is based on the Nation’s Restaurant News article, Big Chains Offer $1M For Greener Cup: Winning Solution Gets Funding and Business Acceleration support, by Lisa Jennings, March 22, 2019. Image source: Shutterstock / Slava_kovtun

Discussion Questions:

1. Why use a competition to find the new approach?

Guidance: This is a big problem.  To find a product may require new ideas.  Bringing new people into the problem might result in a new product from fresh eyes.

2. What criteria should be used to evaluate the winners?

Guidance: The primary criterion is environmental impact, but students may identify additional criteria including cost, customer acceptance, appearance, and quality.

3. Evaluate the 12 winners. Which one do you think is best?

Guidance: Use criteria developed in question 2 to answer this question.  There are no cut and dry winners in the list.  There are three basic approaches—new liner, new material, and reusable cups.  The new liners would be the least disruptive and would probably integrate into current systems.  New material would depend on how good of cup is produced.  As long as it is acceptable and cost effective, this should not cause much disruption.  The reusable cup models require changes in the customer behavior.  They must be willing to follow new procedures for it to work effectively.  Not many details are provided, so arguments could be made for any of the winners.


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