Announcing the NextGen Cup Challenge Winners

Celebrating 12 ideas that are pushing the boundaries of material and chemical innovation and sustainable design as they reinvent the fiber cup system

In 2018, OpenIDEO partnered with Closed Loop Partners and the NextGen Consortium to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge, asking innovators the question:

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?

480 teams from around the world joined the Challenge, and after months of concept development, prototyping and iteration, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge. 

Winners represent the most innovative solutions across three distinct categories: innovative cup liners, new materials, and reusable cup service models. The NextGen Cup Consortium is excited to continue building relationships with these companies and work with them to advance and scale their concepts globally.

These teams will be awarded a portion of up to $1 million in funding, and up to six of them will be moving on to a post-Challenge business accelerator. Accelerator teams will be advancing their solutions by exploring questions around technical feasibility, business viability, and user desirability. They will receive ongoing support to scale up their models and prepare for production and distribution at a global scale. 

If you are interested in following their journey, be sure to subscribe to receive updates from Closed Loop Partners' Center for the Circular Economy, managing partners of the NextGen Cup Challenge and Consortium.  

To stay apprised of future circular economy initiatives at OpenIDEO, subscribe here.


Innovative Cup Liners

These companies are rethinking the polyethylene plastic liners in cups that currently make to-go cups difficult to recycle.

Colombier BioBarrier Coating

By: Colombier Group

Location: Netherlands, Finland

BioBarrier to replace plastic in cups, food containers, and packaging. 

Colombier is a family company whose focus is on sustainability in our business, our families and our environment, across generations. By listening to customers in the food and packaging industry we have developed our ecological Colombier Barrier Coating. We strive to do our share in reducing plastic consumption and providing environmentally viable solutions.

Earth Cup

By: C.E.E R. SCHISLER with the contribution of Sun Chemical

Location: France

Earth Cup is the home compostable 100% paper cup, monomaterial, without polyethylene for hot and cold drinks and ice cream. It is also recyclable and has the same technical barriers and food contact certification as polyethylene cups.

Footprint Formed Fiber Solution

By: Footprint US

Location: USA

Footprint's in-market technologies evolved to provide a formed fiber cup, lid, and paper straw solution that is recyclable and compostable.

The Footprint Cup, Lid, Straw line of products are creating a new era of sustainable cups for quick service restaurants. As a fully formed fiber-based solution, Footprint cups and lids bring a host of new innovations to the cup space that traditional manufacturing cannot match. From variable wall thickness, to textures, to formed features that interlock with each other, Footprint cups and lids are changing the way cups work.

The Game Changer Cup

By: Kotkamills Oy

Location: Finland

Plastic free, recyclable and compostable cupstock that can be processed into cups at existing cup making machines. 

Kotkamills is a responsible partner that delivers renewable products and performance to its customers' processes via product innovations created from wood, a renewable raw material. Kotkamills’ team of 500 persons is changing the game from Kotka, Finland.

New Gen BioPBS Coated Cup

By: PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited

Location: Thailand

New Gen BioPBS is today’s solution for a sustainable tomorrow. This New Gen BioPBS liner is a solution for all coated paper packaging to make them recyclable or home compostable.

Solenis Topscreen: Consumer Board

By: Solenis LLC

Location: USA, Belgium 

Solenis LLC creates a barrier coating that is recyclable and compostable. Solenis is a leading global producer of specialty chemicals for water-intensive industries, including the pulp, paper, oil and gas, chemical processing, mining, biorefining, power and municipal markets. The company’s product portfolio includes a broad array of process, functional and water treatment chemistries, as well as state-of-the-art monitoring and control systems. These technologies are used by customers to improve operational efficiencies, enhance product quality, protect plant assets and minimize environmental impact.

Sun Chemical - Inks and Coatings

By: Sun Chemical Corporation

Location: USA 

Sun Chemical, a member of the DIC group, is a leading producer of printing inks, coatings and supplies, pigments, polymers, liquid compounds, solid compounds, and application materials. Our materials will help replace polyethylene-coated paper cups with cost-effective structures that are recyclable and compostable.

WestRock Circular Cup Solution

By: WestRock Corporation

Location: USA  

WestRock (NYSE:WRK), a leading provider of differentiated paper and packaging solutions, offers the WestRock Circular Cup, a recyclable and compostable paperboard solution for hot or cold beverage cup applications for the NextGen Cup Challenge. This solution meets all current specifications in the paper cup and foodservice industry while improving recoverability and enhancing the recycling process through 100% repulpability.

New Materials

This company is using cutting edge, plant-based materials to make compostable cups.

Solublue Biodegradable Cups and Straws

By: Solublue Ltd.

Location: UK 

Solublue products are plant based, food grade and non-toxic products that biodegrade after use, designed to replace single use plastics in such areas as single use cups and straws, food retail packaging and structural packaging.

Reusable Cup Service Models

The cups made by these companies aren’t single-use, they just keep cycling–remaining in service by harnessing the power of technology and design.

CupClub - Join the Reusable Revolution

By: CupClub

Location: UK 

CupClub is the world's first returnable cup ecosystem which replaces the 100 billion single-use cups and lids used globally every year. CupClub provides a service for drinks, allowing consumers to take away hot and cold beverages from any participating cafe, returning them when finished to the nearest CupClub drop point. Think bike sharing, but for cups.

ReCup - Deposit System for Reusable Cups

By: ReCup GmbH

Location: Germany

RECUP is the sustainable alternative to disposable cups and a more convenient one to reusable ones—that you have to buy, carry around and, most often, forget at home. 

The system is simple: instead of bringing your own cup from home, you simply rent your cup for a deposit whenever and wherever you’re in the actual need for a drink to-go—such as in the mornings at the bakery around the corner, at lunch at your offices’ cafeteria or at the train station before heading to another city. After consumption, you return your cup to the same or any other participating shop in the same or any other city. You then receive the deposit back and don’t have to worry about the cleaning of the cup or carrying it around. By participating in the RECUP-system, shops benefit from a convenient and holistic service.


By: Muuse

Location: Indonesia, Hong Kong  

Muuse operates a deposit-based platform for smart, reusable food and beverage packaging in office, festival, restaurant-chain, and city-wide networks with the goal of eliminating single-use waste. We connect our cups--and third party products—to internet of things technology through RFID tags and an intuitive mobile/web platform. This company is changing the way we use packaging without sacrificing consumer or restaurant convenience.

Honorable Mentions

These companies, although not winners, merited an Honorable Mention. They are two examples of the many innovative material types submitted to the Challenge, and we’re excited to watch them grow.

Nature's Cup

By: CRÈME / Jun Aizaki Architecture & Design

Location: USA

Creating a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic cups, using gourds which are naturally grown inside custom-designed 3D-printed molds.

Founded by Jun Aizaki, CRÈME is a collaboration of dynamic, international designers and creative professionals. Based on the idea that all design challenges require the same problem solving approach, we approach a chair, a restaurant, a building, the same way we would approach a logo or a block.

Mushroom Cup

By: Concentric LLC

Location: USA

Mushroom Cup is a compostable cup grown into shape using mushrooms and is coated with cellulose acetate, a biodegradable plastic.

The mushroom cup is made primarily from 3 materials: a base organic material (such as wood pulp, corn husks, or discarded grains), the mycelium organism which binds that material together, and cellulose acetate which is used as a protective waterproof coating for the cup. The concept does not need any additional infrastructure to recover the cup once it's discarded.

The NextGen 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, Yum! Brands, Nestle, and Wendy's support the Consortium, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is an advisory partner. OpenIDEO is the Consortium's open innovation partner.

There’s never been more momentum for change. As millions of young people flood the streets around the globe to demand urgent climate action, cities and social entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. Feeling this rising bottom-up pressure, governments, corporations, and multilateral organizations, like the UN, are accelerating their efforts to address massive global issues. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have provided a clear framework for action, and they’re helping align more actors than ever in the systems change we need.

OpenIDEO’s leaders, Jason Rissman and Luisa Covaria, spent the week diving into events and conversations, and came back to our team (and now you, our community) with three main themes they wanted to share as we work together to build a better world:

1. Ownership.

Since kicking off the Climate Strike a year ago, 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has been extraordinarily influential in striking up fierce conversations around climate change and inspiring millions of young people to start taking action. She delivered an unforgettable message at the UN Climate Action Summit, telling world leaders: 

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you." 

There’s a new urgency and commitment to addressing the climate emergency, and it’s translating into actors at all levels—from individual young people to national governments—starting to take more ownership. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “We have been losing the race against the climate crisis. But the world is waking up. Pressure is building. Momentum is growing. And—action by action—the tide is turning.”

Countries have moved past negotiation and toward ownership, showing up with their own commitments in unison with this year’s theme for UNGA: "Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion." During the week, 77 countries committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 139 banks—representing a third of the industry—signed up to align with the Paris agreement objectives. The UN member states also adopted a landmark declaration on universal health coverage. These are just a few of many examples of stakeholders proactively bringing forward their solutions. 


Sharing his observations from listening to diverse groups of Americans this past year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the audience that he saw a “tremendous urgency and a tremendous spirit of do-it-yourself … a deep sense that it had to become a matter of personal responsibility right down to the local level.” Echoing his statement, we’re proud of OpenIDEO's globally connected innovators for taking initiative and developing a sense of ownership around local problems. They’re tackling issues related to food waste, people on the move, education, public health, circular economy, and so much more, with dedication and ingenuity.

As we move forward, how might open innovation be a conduit for increased ownership and visibility into the work different stakeholders are taking on? How might the work of so many of the incredible innovators in the OpenIDEO community inspire leaders to develop a mindset around design and prototyping in the work they are owning?

2. Technology

"We will have wonderful machines and dumb people if we don't invest more in education,” cautioned musician and entrepreneur,, during a World Economic Forum panel focused on the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—or the multiple technological revolutions that are transforming the way we live and work—to meet global development goals.

“It’s not about connectivity—it’s about access,” noted Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance at the UN Foundation. “How do we provide access to 50% of the world not connected to the internet? SMS and voice won’t do it. How do we create content and opportunities that are relevant?”

It's crucial that no one is left behind. While technological innovation is surely part of the answer, uneven access and unequal digital skills will lead to adverse effects. For tech to improve lives in a responsible and even way, and to avoid even greater increases in inequity, we'll need new models of targeted education, responsive innovation, and real cooperation between economic, political, and social systems.


Tech needs to facilitate inclusion in addressing societal problems, by involving those who are most proximate to the problems that well-intentioned new technologies are aiming to solve. We believe that collaborative thinking leads to greater innovation, and that including the voices of those with lived experiences will generate even stronger solutions. Open innovation is in its infancy, and we’re excited to help it advance to better surface and support the social innovators our future needs.

3. Collaboration

Today’s problems are interconnected, and only through systems change can we hope to make real progress. This will require more cross-sector collaboration than ever, but first, we need to improve how these collaborations are created and sustained. It’s time to introduce new models of collaboration that distribute leadership and allow all sectors to pitch in.

The SDGs have provided a powerful framework for what needs to get done, and some of the biggest players in the public and private spheres are putting their heads together to unlock the resources necessary to meet them. During UNGA, Google and the UN launched a partnership to develop real-time maps on weather patterns and SDG development activity, while the Gates Foundation and the World Bank announced a multi-million dollar commitment to support small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.

Public-private partnerships are a necessary ingredient, as are new collaboration models that offer participants more shared ownership and flexibility.

The road to healthy collaboration is fraught with challenges, from getting past cultural differences to agreeing to common goals to making the long-term commitments needed for systemic change. Making collaborations work is hard work -- it takes empathy, grit, and a real understanding that it’s the key to sustained progress.


We’re excited for open innovation to provide a unique opportunity to rally diverse stakeholders and together explore new possibilities. By providing shared learning opportunities, clear timelines and processes, along with compelling incentives, open innovation holds the potential to mitigate against these common obstacles and to quicken the pace at which solutions are being developed by scaling the design process globally. Direct competitors collaborating in a pre-competitive space to address environmental challenges is a promising sign, but we need to go further. We all need to adopt an experimental mindset as a collective and work to continuously improve our ability to collaborate.

The NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, which culminated in a pitch event at UNGA, was one such collaboration, with leading brands, industry experts, and innovators coming together to eliminate single-use food packaging waste by developing a more sustainable cup. 

It is incredible to be in a room where you can feel a community reach a turning point. This year at UNGA we felt that shift tangibly across fields and sectors. We look forward to a year of collaborations with our partners and community that reflect this movement. 


1 . National Institutes of Health (NIH). Handout on Health: Atopic Dermatitis (A type of eczema) 2013. 2. NA Gandhi et al., Targeting key proximal drivers of type 2 inflammation in disease. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2016;15(1):35-50. 3. S. Weidinger et al., Atopic dermatitis. Lancet. 2016;387:1109-1122. 4. T. Zuberbier, et al., Patient perspectives on the management of atopic dermatitis, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;118(1):226-232.

Header Image © 2018, Lurdes R. Basolí / EFA Atopical Lives Project

SAGLB.AD.19.08.1277(1) | September 2019