Why is recycling and composting fiber cups the focus? Shouldn’t we be encouraging reusable cups?

The NextGen Cup Challenge welcomes reuse and alternative delivery system submissions.
NextGen Consortium founding members, Starbucks and McDonald’s, recognize the need to reduce single-use packaging in their operations and implement strategies to do so – learn more about Responsibility at Starbucks and Scale for Good at McDonald’s . Customers today want the convenience of fiber cups and the cups remain a cost-effective way to serve hot and cold beverages.

We believe advancing the material value and recoverability of fiber cups while meeting the market’s current needs is a critical step to developing other sustainable single-use packaging. In the process, we aim to identify and commercialize solutions that meet regional needs and overcome recovery infrastructure challenges – all necessary steps to build a global circular economy.

What about straws and other packaging waste?

The NextGen Cup Challenge welcomes submissions for the entire cup system, including lids, straws, sleeves and reuse and alternative delivery systems. The NextGen Consortium’s long-term goal is to solve a range of food-service packaging waste challenges. We are prioritizing the fiber hot and cold cup because it’s a common and voluminous waste challenge and a solution could be adopted across the large food-service industry market. NextGen also believes design and material innovations to the fiber cup will be applicable to other food-service packaging solutions.

Aren’t single-use fiber cups currently recyclable or compostable?

Standard fiber cups have a plastic lining to prevent liquids from leaking and the cup becoming soggy. Although they may be recycled or composted in some markets, in the vast majority of regions the infrastructure doesn’t exist to recover these materials. And while recycled fiber and plastic are valuable, what’s currently recoverable from cups doesn’t sell for much, so there’s no strong incentive for recyclers to recover the materials.

Organizations like the Foodservice Packaging Institute collaborate with recyclers, end markets and composters to recover more fiber cups and other food-service packaging. We believe recovery of these materials will grow if we design cups to be recoverable and increase the value of the recovered material.

Why haven’t we found a solution to the single-use cup yet?

The food-service industry has been working toward a more sustainable cup for many years, but we have yet to find a solution that addresses the structural and commercial systems that produce, collect and recover our cups. The industry’s stringent health, safety and performance standards – designed to keep us all safe – also make it challenging for a new commercially viable solution to be brought to life at a global scale. Since different markets have varying recycling capabilities, we may need more than one solution to fit all countries’ circumstances. NextGen Cup brings together the relevant players to enable new cup solutions that accommodate different regional systems and produce materials worth recovering.

What do terms like ‘recovery’ and ‘recoverable’, ‘global scale’, ‘fiber’ and ‘single-use’  mean?

  1. Recoverable
    After a customer discards a fiber cup, the collection, processing and use of the cup's raw material components is referred to as recovery. For the hot and cold fiber cup to be recoverable and kept out of landfills, its raw material components must have value to end markets that can use the materials and to the various businesses that would meet the needs of those markets. Recovery markets can include, but aren't limited to, recycling and composting. 

  2. Global scale

    Globally, 250 billion hot and cold fiber cups are distributed each year - in cafes and restaurants, event venues, movie theaters, schools, hospitals, and more. The public and private recovery infrastructures that serve these businesses, including waste carters and materials recovery facilities, varies widely across countries and regions. NextGen Cup seeks to identify recoverable solutions that accommodate various infrastructures, or are specific to one, and then commercialize new solutions so they work for the entire 250 billion fiber-cup market and not just one company or application. 


  3. Fiber

    Wood fibers are typically cellulosic elements extracted from trees and used to make materials including paper. The hot and cold fiber cup, also called the paper cup, is typically a single-use, disposable cup comprised of fiber and wax or plastic linings to prevent leaks. 

  4. Single-use

    Designed to be used once, single-use packaging is used across markets and industries and is safe, functional, and convenient. But with convenience comes negative environmental consequences including greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem degradation, and wasted resources. Single-use cups are an prevalent global waste issue. NextGen’s search for recoverable fiber cup solutions can lead to opportunities applicable across the single-use packaging landscape.

How will NextGen engage customers to recycle and compost cups?

Recovering cups for composting or recycling after customer use is a critical step, otherwise cups can still end up in landfills. NextGen Consortium members and our value chain partners contribute their marketing, customer engagement and waste logistics expertise to the NextGen Cup Challenge and Business Accelerator to help with communicating new cup solutions to customers. In 2019, value chain partners will contribute in-store and on-location piloting opportunities, including customer marketing and communication.