United Kingdom

A returnable cup ecosystem to replace the 100 billion single-use cups and lids used every year.

Circular Design Challenge winner

Category 3: Reinventing coffee-to-go

CupClub, based in the United Kingdom, introduces a reusable cup subscription service, in which reusable cups can be dropped off at any participating store.

How does this innovation accelerate the transition to a circular economy?

For most people, reusable cups are an intuitive way to eliminate the waste from the single-use containers we spread around us every day. After all, over 40 billion single-use cups are wasted in the US and Europe alone every year. But there is an elephant in the room: keep cups and reuse schemes for coffee generally don't work. This is the problem Cup Club is devoted to solve. The business model – to sell the reuse service to multiple stakeholders – means that the system can scale and does not rely on brand loyalty. Once proven, it can be rolled out across other service types where packaging waste is a big issue, for example food boxes and drinks bottles.

What’s new?

Cup Club combines a set of proven technological solutions (RFID tagging, mobile interface, Internet of Things) to track individual cups and reward their users for being in the system. The team has drawn a lot of lessons from early pilots and know that cup 'leakage' and lack of retention are among the biggest challenges with such systems. The strategy to solve them is to put in place a network of interaction points – checkouts, drop-points, handsets, cups – designed to help customers stay in the system and to enhance their experience of it. This can potentially be coupled with individual brand campaigns to further improve participation.

3 questions for the team

Cup Club Winner Photo

Safia Qureshi

Founder and CEO

  • What led you to come up with this idea?

  • To think we can put so much energy, resources and time into products that are used just once is mankind's greatest arrogance. To address this, we decided to design a returnable packaging system that really works.

  • Many others are proposing reuse systems for coffee cups. What makes your idea stand out?

  • We have combined a product, service and business model that together enable multiple retailers and brands to transition to a returnable packaging system infrastructure at a city scale. We have what it takes to be the city bike rental equivalent of the coffee scene.

  • What excites you the most about the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Programme?

  • Learning from pioneers and experts in the plastics and packaging industries. Meeting leadership teams, improving aspects of the business and its functions, growing strategic partnerships and building Cup Club to become the world’s first integrated city-scale returnable packaging infrastructure.