Starbucks is ditching plastic straws — and it’s targeting a replacement for wasteful cups next

  • McDonald’s has joined the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge, donating $US5 million to the initiative.
  • Starbucks launched the consortium in March with investment firm Closed Loop Partners, committing $US10 million to it.
  • The challenge, which starts in September, asks entrepreneurs, industry experts, recyclers, and other innovators to share their ideas for creating a fully recyclable and compostable cup.

Just four months after Starbucks helped start a challenge for developing fully recyclable and compostable cups, McDonald’s has joined the initiative with a $US5 million donation.

In March, Starbucks joined forces with investment firm Closed Loop Partners and committed $US10 million to launch the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge. About 600 billion paper cups are distributed around the world each year, and Starbucks cups account for about 1% of them.

The challenge, which begins in September, asks entrepreneurs, industry experts, recyclers, and other innovators to share their ideas for creating a fully recyclable and compostable cup. Any breakthroughs made during the challenge will be open source, meaning others can use the innovation.

“We want to make sure this technology is available to everyone because it’s the right thing to do,” Andy Corlett, director of packaging research and development for Starbucks, said in a March press release. “The idea of environmental sustainability in packaging is not just a Starbucks issue. It’s a global issue. Anything that gets us closer to that goal is not something we want to keep to ourselves.”

Paper cups at Starbucks are currently made with 10% post-consumer recycled fibre. According to the release, improving the cups could allow more composting facilities to process the cups and keep them from ending up in landfills.

Over the past year, Starbucks has taken aggressive steps to cut down on customer waste: In 2017, the company released a new lid for its nitro cold brew that eliminates the need for a straw. And earlier this month, Starbucks announced plans to eliminate all plastic straws from its stores by 2020, with plans to serve iced coffee, tea, and espresso drinks with the recyclable strawless lids.

NextGen challenge winners will receive up to $US1 million in funding, and up to seven recipients will be able to develop their ideas further in a six-month program.

Kate Daly, executive director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, said in a July press release that the center has received more than 1,000 inquiries about the challenge.

“In our experience investing in circular economy innovation, we find the most successful path to scaling a systems-changing solution is to bring together key players along the entire value chain in a pre-competitive collaboration,” Daly said. “This is the type of partnership we need to foster innovative solutions without sacrificing profit.”

The consortium will also form an advisory council of recyclers, composters, municipalities, environmental NGOs and others. Collaboration across these different groups will help create a permanent solution to cup waste, according to the July release.

While NextGen is tackling cups now, it plans on addressing lids and straws in the future.

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