NextGen Cup Challenge

How might we design the next generation fiber cup to be recoverable on a global scale, while maintaining the performance standards we know and trust?

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge!
We are thrilled to announce the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge!
We're Looking For
  • Solutions must address the hot and cold fiber cup.
  • Ideas may include cup lids, sleeves, straws, liners, and/or consider reuse and alternative delivery systems.
  • Ideas may also consider hot and cold cups separately.

Learn More +

The Opportunity
  • Winners are eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding.
  • Up to six winners will have the opportunity to enter into a business accelerator program following the Challenge.

Learn More +

What's Happening Now
Participants were welcome to submit solutions to the Beyond the Bag Challenge through one of three submission channels. Learn more about each channel.


The fiber cup is everywhere. In 2016, 250 billion were distributed globally, and it’s estimated that number will increase to 266 billion by 2022. While convenient for enjoying a hot coffee or cold beverage on the go, too many fiber cups end up in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and wasting valuable resources.

There are two core issues with fiber cups: how they’re made and how the materials they’re made of are valued. Most fiber cups have a plastic liner to prevent leaks. The fiber and plastic are recyclable once separated, but limitations and inconsistencies in recycling infrastructure around the world mean that in most markets these materials aren’t easily recovered. 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.

The foodservice industry has been working toward a more sustainable cup for many years, but have yet to find a solution that addresses the structural and commercial systems that produce, collect and recover our cups, while also meeting industry standards.

We need a new solution.

The NextGen Cup Challenge aims to push the boundaries of sustainable design and material and chemical innovation to solve a prevalent global waste issue. We are calling on innovators, suppliers, designers, and problem-solvers to join the Challenge and reinvent the fiber cup system.

Let’s get started!

Challenge Journey

1. Pre-Launch

Sep 25, 2018

Oct 8, 2018

2. Ideas Phase

Oct 9, 2018

Nov 16, 2018

3. Review Phase

Nov 17, 2018

Dec 10, 2018

4. Refinement Phase

Dec 10, 2018

Jan 17, 2019

5. Final Review Phase

Jan 18, 2019

Feb 26, 2019

6. Winners Announcement

Feb 27, 2019

Apr 30, 2024

Current Phase
1. Pre-Launch
Let's get started!

Prior to the Challenge launch on October 9, we encourage you to use this time to build a team, familiarize yourself with the information on this page, and begin planning your solution.

Interested in hosting a research event in your community? Let us know and we'll provide you with resources to get start

What's Happening

Get ready to join the Challenge!

Key Dates

Challenge launches on Tuesday October 9, 2018.

Phase Closed
2. Ideas Phase
Submit your Next Generation Cup Idea!

The Ideas Phase is more than just a call for proposals. 

At OpenIDEO, we believe that new and existing ideas become better through collaboration, transparent feedback, and iteration. Participants are encouraged to build off of others' concepts, collaboratively share insights, and combine ideas to reach new innovation spaces.

Participants are welcome to submit solutions through either a public or non-public submission channel. For those innovators who wish to opt out of posting on the public platform, please select the "non-public" submission option.

What's Happening

View the recording of our Technical, legal and IP webinar

Key Dates

Proposals are due Friday November 16, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. PST.

Phase Closed
3. Review Phase
Submissions are carefully evaluated to determine the Ideas Shortlist.

Please stay tuned while we review your submissions.

What's Happening

Share your feedback on submitted concepts.

Key Dates

Shortlisted candidates will be announced on Monday December 10, 2018.

Phase closed
4. Refinement Phase
Let's make ideas better through collaboration!

During the Refinement Phase, up to 30 shortlisted concepts are invited to develop prototypes, plans to scale their business model, and other demonstrations of the solution’s ability to satisfy the goals of the Challenge.

All teams participating in Refinement will be paired with an expert mentor to support the evolution of their concept.

What's Happening

Refinement teams are meeting with mentors

Key Dates

Refinement materials are due by Thursday January 17, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. PST.

Phase closed
5. Final Review Phase
Ideas are reviewed by a panel of expert Judges, our Sponsors, and OpenIDEO to select Top Ideas.
What's Happening

Stay tuned while a panel of Judges evaluate final submissions.

Key Dates

Top Ideas announced February 27, 2019.

Phase Closed
6. Winners Announcement
Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the 12 NextGen Cup Challenge Winners

What's Happening

Selected concepts will be announced and awarded.

Key Dates

Top Ideas announced February 27, 2019.

Explore Winning Ideas
The Challenge

How might we design the next generation fiber cup to be recoverable on a global scale, while maintaining the performance standards we know and trust?

Read The Full Brief

The Challenge

The goal of the Challenge is to identify and commercialize existing and new cup solutions designed to be recoverable at their highest material value. We are seeking solutions that will accommodate the infrastructure of different global regions and, when recycled or composted, produce quality materials that carry high economic value in recovery markets around the world.

Solutions must be recoverable and address the fiber-based hot and cold cup; however, ideas may also include cup lids, sleeves, straws, liners, and/or consider reuse and alternative delivery systems. Ideas may also consider hot and cold cups separately.

Materials used in solutions should aim to be ethically and sustainably sourced, contain recycled content, and consider how the disposal of this product will be accessible to differing recycling and composting infrastructures around the world. Any cup designs developed through this Challenge must meet or exceed foodservice industry health, safety, and environmental performance standards.

Please review our Additional Resources to help you get started.

Designing a sustainable fiber cup that’s accessible to the entire food-service industry requires cross-sector collaboration from designers, entrepreneurs, suppliers, scientists, seasoned experts and more. The NextGen Cup Challenge is here to help make this happen.  

Throughout the Challenge, participants will be supported with:

  • Access to technical and material information to support the material selection and testing process.
  • Toolkits outlining research, prototyping, and product design processes to support the innovation journey.
  • Access to experts to source knowledge from leading minds within the circular design, retail, waste, and recycling industries.
  • One-on-one mentor sessions. Up to 30 solution teams that move into the Refinement Phase of the Challenge will be paired with industry expert mentors for guidance and support throughout the prototyping process.
  • New connections and the opportunity to meet co-creators while growing your network via the OpenIDEO platform and Circular community.

The NextGen Cup Challenge is an open innovation initiative seeking to identify and commercialize existing and future solutions for the single-use, hot and cold fiber cup. The Challenge is the first part of a multi-year, multi-industry global consortium that aims to accelerate the design, commercialization, and recovery of packaging alternatives.

Learn more about NextGen Consortium.

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What Happens to My Idea?

NextGen Consortium members including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, commit to advancing the identification, acceleration, and commercialization of new cup solutions.

As a participant in the Challenge, you will retain intellectual property ownership of all your Challenge submission ideas. There is no transfer of intellectual property rights to any third party as a condition of participating in the Challenge. Please review our full Terms & Conditions before submitting a concept.

Please do not submit confidential information as part of your application to the NextGen Cup Challenge.


  • Early Generation Award: Early stage concepts will be eligible to receive funding of up to $25k.
  • Middle Generation Award: Mid stage concepts will be eligible to receive funding of up to $100k.
  • Next Generation Award: Later stage concepts will be eligible to receive funding of up to $200k.

Top Ideas will receive funding, with up to six of the most promising early- and growth-stage winners also receiving the option to advance to a business accelerator program to receive further assistance in scaling and commercializing their solutions. These solutions will receive exceptional foodservice and recovery-system industry access to test, pilot, and enhance their solution through partnerships, with the potential for capital investment in the accelerator and licensing through Consortium members. Large companies who do not participate in the business accelerator program will also have access to testing and piloting opportunities.

The cup supplier community will play a key role in activating the promising solutions identified by the Challenge. The Consortium will engage this expertise throughout the accelerator, testing and piloting phases to identify opportunities for knowledge-sharing and collaboration with Challenge participants.

Startups invited to advance to the business accelerator program, who choose to participate, will not be required to provide an equity stake, warrant, or other investment commitment. Challenge and Accelerator participants are eligible for investment consideration if they so choose.

Winners who are not eligible or interested in participating in the business accelerator will still have access to a customized business development associate to help advance their solution.

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Evaluation Criteria

Solutions entered into the Challenge must be recoverable and address the fiber-based hot and cold cup; however, ideas may also include cup lids, sleeves, straws, liner innovations, and/or consider reuse and alternative delivery systems. Ideas may also consider hot and cold cups separately.

When devising your concept, we encourage you to ask yourself: How might this solution make life better for users, businesses, and the world?

Submissions will be evaluated according to the following criteria:


  • Cup + Cup System: Solutions will innovate for the hot and cold fiber cup, which can include liners and the whole cup system with a lid, straw, and sleeve. Reuse and alternative delivery systems are also welcome.
  • Performance: Solutions must meet or exceed the industry’s current health, safety, and environmental performance standards pertaining to cups. Review our Additional Resources to help you get started,
  • Ecosystem: Solutions should seek to be relevant across the entire foodservice industry, rather than exclusive to one product or business type.


  • Recoverable: Solutions seek to enable the recovery of raw materials at their highest possible value across multiple global infrastructures (e.g. recycling, composting).
  • Recycled Content: Solutions should seek to include recycled material and minimize virgin material and resource use along the entire development chain.
  • Sourcing: The material content of solutions should be sustainably (including renewable) and ethically sourced (including both virgin and recaptured materials).


  • Adaptable: Solutions will be adaptable—designed to be commercially viable in the near-term, while also considering rapidly changing recovery infrastructure and technology in regions around the world.
  • Global: Solutions will consider the global marketplace. Solutions can be designed for implementation in priority markets of North America, Europe, and Asia, with a secondary focus on South America and Africa, OR consider a local approach to solve regional issues with the to-go cup.
  • Experience: The solution should seek to improve the cup experience for customers, businesses, and the world at large.
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What is Required

IDEAS PHASE: Submissions during the Ideas Phase will be required to provide the following.

  • Solution overview: Participants will provide a summary and overview of their solution. Creative, visual, and design-oriented supporting collateral is encouraged.
  • Technical overview: Participants will provide a technical overview of their solution. Please do not submit confidential information as part of your application to the NextGen Cup Challenge. Submissions will not be considered confidential. For those innovators who would prefer to opt out of sharing their submission publicly, and instead have content reviewed only by the Consortium and a panel of Judges, you may select the "non-publicly viewable" submission channel.
  • User research: Submissions will include evidence of human-centered user research, feedback and testing of their concepts or prototypes.
  • Prototype: Participants will provide visual evidence of concept prototyping including, but not limited to, images/sketches, models, videos, or other relevant formats.

REFINEMENT PHASE: If selected to advance to the Refinement Phase, submissions will be required to provide the items listed below. During this Phase, the Consortium may ask technical questions of participant submissions. Innovator requests for an NDA could be considered at this time.

  • Material overview / recoverability plan: Submissions will include an overview of selected materials, and the recoverability potential for each material and the solution as a whole (including process for recovery).
  • Scale and production plan: Submissions will outline their pathways to scale and marketability, while also noting R&D or production ramp-up periods.
  • Business plan: Submissions present a business plan and complete a required business model canvas that clearly demonstrates a pathway to scale.
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How to Participate

For complete contest rules, please see the Terms & Conditions.

Individuals, teams of individuals, and legal entities from all countries and territories are welcome and encouraged to participate. Participants must be serious about advancing their solution beyond the Challenge, and plan to scale their product globally (if not already operating at scale).

Participants are welcome to submit solutions through either a public or non-public submission channel.

Publicly Viewable Submission Channel

The public submission channel permits ideas to be viewed and further developed by the entire OpenIDEO community. At OpenIDEO, we find that opening ideas to a global community with a variety of experiences, cultural backgrounds, and areas of expertise holds rich learning opportunities and the potential for real and lasting impact, including inspiring conversations and unexpected collaborations.

By submitting ideas through the public channel, participants agree to allow the submissions to be viewable to the public.

Please do not submit confidential information as part of your application to the NextGen Cup Challenge.

Non-Publicly Viewable Submission Channel

We understand that not all innovators will want to share their ideas publicly. To account for this, we have created a submission channel for those innovators or companies who wish to opt out of sharing their ideas openly with the broader public. If this is you, and you would prefer your idea to be viewable only to NextGen Consortium and a panel of Judges, please select the non-publicly viewable submission channel.   

By opting for the non-publicly viewable submission channel, you will not be able to take advantage of the OpenIDEO community to generate feedback, build upon one another's ideas, or receive targeted comments and questions from our global network of innovators.

Please do not submit confidential information as part of your application to the NextGen Cup Challenge.

If you have questions around the submission process, or the Challenge in general, you can contact us at for more information.

To submit a response to either the public or non-public submission channel, participants must agree to the full Challenge Terms & Conditions and all of the included submission requirements.

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Additional Resources

Please review this list of Additional Resource links to help you get started.

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Please review the updated FAQ page for answers to your most pressing technical, legal and IP, and materials questions.

Common Term Definitions

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.

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, not just one company or application.

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.

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.


Why Should I Participate?

Challenge winners are eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding. Awardees can also participate in a six month accelerator cohort to help scale their solutions with support and mentorship from investors, packaging and supply chain leaders, prospective customers and business leaders.

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 these 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.

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. 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.

What about straws and other packaging waste?

The NextGen Cup Challenge welcomes submissions for the entire cup system–including lids, straws, sleeves–as well as 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 foodservice industry market. NextGen also believes design and material innovations to the fiber cup will be applicable to other food-service packaging solutions.

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

The foodservice 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.

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.

Visit the standard OpenIDEO FAQ page for answers to common open innovation Challenge questions.

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Who's Involved

This Challenge is a part of NextGen Consortium, a global initiative convened by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and founding members Starbucks and McDonald’s. The Coca-Cola Company and Yum! Brands support the Consortium and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in an advisory partner. OpenIDEO is the Consortium’s open innovation partner.

Learn more about the NextGen Consortium.

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Explore winning IDeas
Explore winning IDeas
Challenge Team:

Chris Krohn

Senior Portfolio Lead

Hannah Lennett

Marketing Lead

Daniela Restrepo Ortiz

Community Specialist

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