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Closed Loop Partners Announces NextGen Cup Challenge Winners

Starbucks, McDonald’s and others partner in pre-competitive collaboration to push the boundaries of sustainable design and find innovative cup solutions.

The NextGen Consortium, convened by Closed Loop Partners, announced the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge, an open-sourced, global innovation challenge to redesign the fiber to-go cup and create a widely recyclable and/or compostable cup.

After a rigorous four-month review process by a group of judges, including NextGen Consortium business leaders, as well as experts in recycling, composting and packaging, the challenge narrowed the nearly 500 submissions from more than 50 countries down to 12 winners.

These 12 winning solutions—broadly categorized into innovative cup liners, new materials and reusable cup service models—have the potential to turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into a valuable material in the recycling system.

“This is a notable milestone to achieve our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably which is a particular passion for our over 350,000 Starbucks partners,” said John Kelly, senior vice president of global public affairs and social impact at Starbucks, in a statement. “We’re a founding partner of the NextGen Consortium because we believe it will take the scale and influence of many global companies to make recyclable, compostable to-go cups an industry standard rather than the exception.”

Many of the largest players in the food and beverage industry have united within the NextGen Consortium. Starbucks and McDonald’s were early investors and founding partners of the NextGen Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy’s joining as supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund acts as an advisory member of the consortium, and OpenIDEO is an innovation partner.

Up to six winners will enter the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, where they’ll gain access to a network of experts, business and technical resources and testing opportunities to ensure these innovations can successfully scale to serve the needs of the industry.

The challenge is the first stage of the NextGen Consortium’s three-year effort. Next, the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, with testing and piloting opportunities, will help solutions get onto the shelf. Further, the consortium is working with suppliers, recyclers and composters to ensure that the winning solutions can get successfully recovered for the highest value. The consortium will work together to support the needs of the recycling and composting system and identify ways to make it easy for consumers to choose the right bin.

"The level of interest we saw in the challenge demonstrates a real appetite for long-lasting sustainable packaging solutions," said Kate Daly, executive director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, in a statement. "This level of industry collaboration in support of the NextGen Cup Challenge is really exciting, and we look forward to building on this momentum to encourage more innovative solutions. Fully recoverable fiber to-go cups are just the beginning."

“Billions of paper cups created from tens of millions of trees end up in landfills each year—trees that could otherwise help stabilize our climate but are instead cut down just so consumers can use something once and throw it away. This global trash problem requires leading brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s to adopt one of these groundbreaking recyclable and compostable cup technologies as quickly as possible,” said Todd Paglia, executive director at Stand.earth, in a statement.

International environmental organization Stand.earth launched its BetterCup campaign in 2016 after Starbucks, which first pledged in 2008 to create a recyclable paper cup, “continued to outsize its contribution to the global trash problem,” according to Stand.earth. In March 2018, the Starbucks responded to Stand.earth and a growing global plastic pollution campaign by pledging $10 million to bring a recyclable and compostable cup to market in three years. In September 2018, Starbucks formally launched the NextGen Cup Challenge and was joined by McDonald’s, Coca-Cola Company, Nestle, Yum! Brands and Wendy's.

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