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McDonald's Joins Starbucks in Quest for Compostable Cup; Ireland Already Found One

Image credit: The Happy Pear

The NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge, convened by Closed Loop Partners, announced today that McDonald’s joins Starbucks as a founding member of the group, working to develop a global recyclable and/or compostable cup solution. This announcement follows recent commitments by both companies to drive innovation of their packaging and help reduce plastic waste. 

McDonald’s is committing $5 million in partnership with Closed Loop Partners to help launch the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge announced earlier this year, bringing the total contributed to $10 million. The Challenge kicks off in September and invites innovators, entrepreneurs, industry experts and recyclers to submit their ideas for the next generation of recyclable and/or compostable cups. Winners will receive acceleration funding up to $1 million based on key milestones, and up to seven of will enter a six-month accelerator program to help scale their solutions. 

“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good to make positive changes that impact our planet and the communities we serve,” said Marion Gross, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s USA. “We are excited to join Starbucks and Closed Loop to help solve this pressing challenge as collaboration is key to finding a scalable, lasting global solution.”

“We are proud to come together with industry partners like McDonald’s to drive innovative, scalable solutions for cup waste,” said Colleen Chapman, VP of Global Social Impact, focused on sustainability for Starbucks. “A better cup will benefit the entire industry and we invite others to join us as we move these efforts forward.

NextGen builds on years of work in the industry and is a critical step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that will potentially allow the 600 billion cups globally to be diverted from landfills and given a second life. 

NextGen is building a robust advisory council including leaders in environmental NGOs including WWF; human-centered design, academic leaders, the paper and plastic industry, recyclers, composters, and municipalities. This council will ensure that the work is grounded in the needs of the entire value chain and the cups make it from shelf to consumer and back through the recovery system to another high value use.

“There has never been a greater need to tackle the ways in which we source and recover materials. McDonald’s participation is a strong step forward in building momentum from major brands to come together and develop innovative approaches to materials waste,” says Erin Simon, director of R&D and material science at World Wildlife Fund, U.S. “Working together across the entire value chain of these major companies will allow us to create a comprehensive and lasting solution to this critical conservation challenge.”

Launching in September, The NextGen Cup Challenge, in partnership with OpenIDEO, will be open to supply chain leaders, innovators and solution providers with promising solutions to recovery of single-use cups — with a focus on the fiber-based hot and cold cup — starting with creating a fully recyclable and/or compostable cup in North America.

“To date we have received more than 1,000 inquiries from companies and individuals interested in participating in the challenge and we anticipate some exciting and impactful proposals,” says Kate Daly, Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “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. This is the type of partnership we need to foster innovative solutions without sacrificing profit. We are working with consortium members to build a robust shared set of technical, performance, and environmental criteria that we will announce later this summer.”

While NextGen intends to work on the entire cup system, including cups, lids and straws, its first challenge will focus on the fiber-based hot and cold cup, as this is the most significant challenge faced by the industry.


Meanwhile, the corporates might want to take a page from Stephen and David Flynn — twin Irish chefs, cookbook authors and café owners behind the growing food brand, The Happy Pear — which has become one of the first national retail brands to roll out Ireland's only completely paper-free compostable cup.

The cups, created by Irish global packaging solutions company Zeus, are made from sugarcane waste and contain zero paper or wood pulp, making them not only the most sustainable single-use cups available in the Irish market, but the only ones with their own closed-loop system – Zeus collects the lids and cups for composting after use.

"Zeus has been selling compostable cups for years, but these cups are not as sustainable because trees still need to be cut down,” said Brian O'Sullivan, managing director of Zeus. “With the Treefree cup, we wanted to launch a product that was not only paper-free but also part of a system of collection that ensures the correct composting of the cup. This closes the loop from the creation of the cup (from leftover fibres from sugarcane extraction) to the conversion of the cup to biogas and biofertiliser.”

In a statement, the Flynn twins said while they’d prefer not to provide single-use cups, they appreciate their practicality for customers, so they are delighted to be among the first to use the Treefree cups. They also want to ensure customers do their part to keep the closed-loop system on track.

"We all have a really important role to play to ensure the cups, that start out as waste material from sugar-cane, end up broken down and turned into biogas,” they said. "Next time we enjoy a tea or coffee from a Treefree Cup, we need to put it in the dedicated compost bin in our cafés so it can be collected and composted. With this simple action, customers are making the best sustainable choice."


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