Paper Cup Recycling Hits New Milestone in the U.S. With Increased Cup Acceptance at Over 40 Paper Mills

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May 07, 2024

The NextGen Consortium and Foodservice Packaging Institute join forces to help more mills accept cups and reduce waste––with more on the way!

May 7, 2024, New York, NY — Today, the NextGen Consortium, an industry collaboration managed by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, joined the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) in announcing a major milestone in paper cup recycling in the U.S. Multiple paper mills, from Georgia to Wisconsin, have announced that they will now accept single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups in bales of mixed paper or polycoat cartons and aseptic packaging. This brings the total number of North American mills accepting paper cups to more than 40, marking significant progress as demand for recycled fiber content grows in the U.S., amidst increasing sustainability commitments and policy tailwinds. The new mills to accept cups include Newman and Company, Inc., Philadelphia, PA; PaperWorks Industries, Wabash, IN; Resolute Forest Products, Menominee Mill, MI; Greif Mill Group in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI, among others listed in FPI’s end market map.

Every year, an estimated 250 billion cups are used globally—the majority of which end up in landfills after a single-use. Historically, paper cups had been deemed ‘unrecyclable’ because of their plastic lining, resulting in low recovery rates and valuable materials ending up in landfill. In recent years, as mills compete for diminishing supplies of newspapers and office paper in the recycling system, there has been growing interest in opportunities to recover material categories that contain high-quality fiber, such as paper cups. Many mills––especially new and retrofitted builds––have undertaken repulpability studies to determine whether they can successfully recover the valuable fiber from coated paper packaging, such as fiber cups, for use in recycled fiber products. Positive outcomes of the studies have led to higher acceptance of fiber cups at mills. According to FPI, the dozens of paper mills that now accept paper cups in mixed paper bales represent more than 75 percent of U.S. mixed paper processing demand.

By accepting recovered paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products, mills play a pivotal role in advancing the larger paper cup recovery process. As more mills effectively recover fiber from paper cups, cup recycling is incentivized further upstream in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and communities looking to improve their waste diversion efforts. While only 11 percent of communities in the U.S. officially accept cups in their residential recycling programs today, the increasing number of mills that accept cups signals a greater opportunity to grow cup recycling efforts.

“Alongside advancing reuse and material innovation, strengthening paper cup recovery and recycling is critical to keeping cups from going to waste in landfills,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Paper mills play a critical role in strengthening end markets for cups. By pulling materials through the system, mills accepting cups can drive increased cup processing in recycling facilities and cup collection in communities. We are thrilled to see cup recovery reach this important milestone in the United States, moving us closer to a waste-free future.”

For several years, the NextGen Consortium and Foodservice Packaging Institute have collaborated to strengthen existing materials recovery and recycling infrastructure to recapture more paper cups. Both organizations have released critical reports and research to guide paper cup recovery and recycling, such as NextGen’s report Closing the Loop on Cups and FPI’s White Paper on the The State of Paper Cup Recycling. While the challenges are significant, collaboration among various stakeholders involved in paper cup recovery can help address its scale and complexity.

“We are thrilled to work with a growing set of mills in their efforts to recover poly-coated paper cups,” says Natha Dempsey, President of FPI. “Reliable and responsible end markets for cups catalyze new opportunities for community partnerships, especially in regions that previously didn’t have the capability to recycle them.”

“The mix of recovered paper we receive has changed dramatically over the last several years, now including much more plastic that we have to separate in the repulping process. Paper cups contain good fiber and are no more difficult to recycle than many of the other prominent packaging categories we see today. We look forward to the value it will bring to our outputs at our mills in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI,” said Jeff Hilkert, VP Paperboard Sales of Greif Mill Group.”

In addition to working with the mills that are now accepting cups, the NextGen Consortium and FPI continue to work with several other interested mills to run studies that can help determine the viability of paper cups in their system. Furthermore, they are also working with groups up and down the value chain––including brands, MRFs and communities––to ensure more cups can be recycled, especially where viable and robust end markets exist. This collaborative work is a key step forward in increasing the supply of recycled content to meet growing demand, and reducing the amount of valuable materials being sent to landfill.

About the NextGen Consortium
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo as sector lead partners. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

The Center for the Circular Economy is the innovation arm of Closed Loop Partners, a firm at the forefront of building the circular economy. The Center executes research and analytics, unites organizations to tackle complex material challenges and implements systemic change that advances the circular economy. The Center for the Circular Economy’s expertise spans circularity across the full lifecycle of materials, connecting upstream innovation to downstream recovery infrastructure and end markets. Learn more about the Center for the Circular Economy at closedlooppartners.com/the-center/ 

About the Foodservice Packaging Institute
Founded in 1933, the Foodservice Packaging Institute is the trade association for the foodservice packaging industry in North America. FPI promotes the value and benefits of foodservice packaging and plays an active role in advancing the recovery of FSP to support the circular economy. The association serves as the industry’s leading authority to educate and influence stakeholders. Members include raw material and machinery suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and purchasers of foodservice packaging. For more information, visit www.FPI.org.

New Report from the NextGen Consortium Shares Path Forward for Paper Cup Recycling in the U.S. 

By

November 01, 2023

Insights include solutions for paper mills, materials recovery facilities, brands and communities to increase recovery of paper cups and reduce waste to landfill

Read the full report

Nov. 1, 2023 — Today, the NextGen Consortium, a leading industry collaboration managed by Closed Loop Partners, with partner brands including Starbucks, McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, JDE Peet’s, The Wendy’s Company and Yum! Brands, released a report with new findings to accelerate paper cup recycling in the U.S. The report, Closing the Loop on Cups: Collective Action to Advance the Recovery of Paper Cups in the U.S.assesses the role of each stakeholder across the paper cup recovery value chain––including paper mills, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), brands, consumers and local communities––and provides recommended actions to increase paper cup recovery opportunities and advance a more circular system.

Every day, millions of people around the world drink from paper cups. They’re safe, functional and convenient–– so much so that globally, more than 250 billion cups are produced each year. But convenience comes with environmental consequences: the majority of cups end up in landfill today. The NextGen Consortium has taken a three-pronged approach to address cup waste holistically: 1) Advancing reusable cup systems that keep materials in circulation for multiple uses, 2) Exploring material science innovation that enhances the sustainability and recoverability of cup materials, and 3) Strengthening materials recovery and recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use.

In this report, the NextGen Consortium focuses on the need to strengthen existing materials recovery and recycling infrastructure systems to recapture more paper cups. Recovering and recycling paper cups ensures the value embodied in paper cups—primarily comprised of fiber and a plastic liner—is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill. These cups contain high-quality fiber that is valuable to paper mills as other paper sources like newsprint and office paper decline. While the challenges for paper cup recovery and recycling are significant, collaboration among various stakeholders involved in paper cup recovery can help address its scale and complexity. The report highlights key challenges and opportunities, including:

  • Today, only about 11 percent of communities accept cups in their recycling operations. This poses a significant barrier to cup recycling, as residents have few options to properly recycle their used cups.
  • While only a handful of cities in the U.S. are officially accepting cups in their recycling programs, the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) identified more than 30 paper mills that accept paper cups in mixed paper bales representing 75 percent of U.S. mixed paper demand, and an additional five mills accepting cups in carton bales. These mills are taking recovered paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products.
  • In 2023, the NextGen Consortium, in collaboration with FPI and Moore & Associates, identified more than 15 additional mills across North America that are interested in testing cup acceptance or that can process cups today. This new interest is a tremendous endorsement for the work that is taking place and can catalyze cup acceptance at MRFs and in new communities in the months and years ahead.
  • Each stakeholder in the value chain has an important role to play in improving paper cup recycling. The report outlines key calls to action, including calling on:
    • Mills to conduct recycling tests on paper cups to determine if the fiber can be captured without any negative operational impacts at their facilities;
    • MRFs to conduct material flow studies to determine where best to site interventions for cup sortation and to collaborate with mills and communities to expand acceptable recycling lists as more mills accept cups;
    • Communities to engage with MRFs and mills to evaluate feasibility of adding cups to accepted recyclables list;
    • Consumers to bring their own reusable cups when they can and to check local recyclability options and guidance when using disposable cups;
    • Brands to source recycled paper content when procuring their cups and other packaging, among other activities.

 

“The waste generated from to-go paper cups has become a highly visible representation of our disposable, take-make-waste culture. However, these cups also are a valuable resource with growing opportunities for recovery,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We know that collaboration across stakeholders––from mills and MRFs to brands and cities––is going to be critical to solving this challenge and ensuring paper cups don’t end up in landfill or polluting our environment. The NextGen Consortium plays a key role in advancing the innovation, testing and partnerships needed to make this possible.”

Since its founding in 2018, the NextGen Consortium has taken a holistic and collaborative approach to addressing the challenge of single-use cup waste, advancing reuse models, exploring material science innovations and strengthening materials recovery and recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use. While material reduction and reuse are key pathways to reduce reliance on virgin resource extraction, end-of-life recovery pathways are equally critical to ensure that the value embodied in all types of cups, including single-use paper cups, is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill.

As the NextGen Consortium works toward its goal of eliminating foodservice packaging waste, it will continue to work to improve and align recovery and recycling infrastructure across the entire value chain, from collection and sortation to processing and strengthening end markets. Collaborative action, data-driven decision-making and iterative testing continue to be critical to closing the loop on a greater diversity and volume of valuable resources and avoiding unintended consequences. The learnings from this report aim to guide the industry towards a future in which reusing valuable materials in products becomes the commonsense norm, shaping a more circular economy.

About the NextGen Consortium

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use foodservice packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of foodservice packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo as sector lead partners. JDE Peet’s, The Wendy’s Company and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: Closed Loop Capital Management, the Center for the Circular Economy and Circular Services. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in and support scalable innovations that target big system problems. Learn more about the Center’s work here.

Reuse

Debunking Durability: How Durable Does Reusable Packaging Need to Be?

By Carolina Lobel and Carol Grzych

October 24, 2023

When reuse started regaining popularity in the United States, it was hard to imagine how any version of reuse could be worse for the environment than single-use equivalents. Today, there’s growing awareness of potential unintended consequences of reuse if return rates, and associated packaging use cycles, are not high enough to justify the added durability (and material) that comes with reusable packaging.

With the newest wave of reuse policy discussions and renewed efforts to integrate reuse models into reduction requirements of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills, there is growing confusion on what defines a “good” reuse system. Although many metrics are cited, use cycles or return rates paint the most robust picture of how well a reuse system is operating in practice. As we build the reuse systems of tomorrow, a universal understanding of such metrics is essential. So, what is a high enough return rate?

The reality of today’s reuse rates
Across different sources, the number of reuses required to offset the added durability and materials needed for reusable packaging (also known as the breakeven point) is said to range from about five to 800 uses. But in today’s reality, reusable packaging is often reused less than five times, based on the results of past and ongoing open-system reuse pilots. For containers to have five uses on average in their lifetime, return rates need to be 80%. For a 90% return rate––which we have yet to see in open systems at scale––containers are used only 10 times on average*.

Achieving five to 10 uses is still a dream state for most open-environment reuse systems, yet we see packaging designers choosing and testing packaging materials to withstand dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of uses. Brands and manufacturers designing reusable containers are often reacting to regulations that set up unreasonably high use targets for open-system models. CalRecycle suggests washable as something that lasts 780 cycles. The Choose2Reuse drafted regulation cited a requirement of about 1,000 cycles. These types of requirements force the industry to design packaging for aspirational return rates, making breakeven points even higher.

Why designing for current state matters
To mitigate the environmental impact of reuse, reusable packaging needs to be designed for current return rates. Otherwise, you limit the environmental benefits by potentially generating a higher volume of materials, that are less likely to be recovered.

Additionally, durability will naturally be a function of usage environment; reusables must be appropriately designed for their expected use case. Items made for more closed environments, such as dine-in at a restaurant or for a drink at a venue, may have higher use cycles than open environments, such as takeaway or delivery.

The bottom line: as we transition toward more widespread reuse, we need to design with actual return rates and uses cases in mind. We must also ensure that containers that are not returned for reuse are recycled at their end-of-life (learn more about designing for end-of-life here).

While we work towards building the convenience and incentives needed to increase return rates, we must ask: what’s the least amount of material that we can put in a returnable packaging solution today to make it durable enough to survive five to 10 uses? Will it look sufficiently like a durable reusable to signal returnability? And ultimately, how many cycles does a container need to survive to beat its single-use equivalent? For open reuse systems today, when the answer is less than five or so cycles, the packaging design is going in the right direction.

Reusable packaging is at an important inflection point. New innovations are expanding what is possible, but to ensure that reuse does not generate unintended environmental consequences, reusable packaging needs to be thoughtfully designed with today’s reality in mind. Designing reusable packaging with current return rates, use cases and eventual end-of-life in mind are all critical steps to building a reuse system that truly advances a circular economy and a waste-free future.

Reuse

When Reusable Cups Reach End-of-Life: 5 Tips to Ensure They Don’t Go to Waste

By Anh Giang and Dan Liswood

October 18, 2023

We know reuse plays a critical part in reducing foodservice packaging waste. And we’ve seen progress and innovation across all types of packaging and foodservice venues, whether cup share programs, reuse at concerts and events, or even for food delivery services. However, for reuse models to be successful and impactful, they need to check a lot of boxes––they have to fit the lifestyle of customers and align with the reality of retail operations to ensure reusable packaging is sufficiently reused. They also have to be recyclable so that they don’t become waste when they end up somewhere other than the return bin at any point in their lifecycle. Whether a reuse program has a 95 percent (terrific!), 75 percent (needs improvement) or 25 percent (look out!) return rate, designing for recyclability is key, especially as more reusable packaging enters the ecosystem. Appropriate end-of-life management is necessary to maximize the intended environmental benefit that reusable products offer.

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium has been leading efforts to identify the role reuse can play in addressing foodservice packaging waste, alongside material innovation and recovery [see: Bringing Reusable Packaging Systems to Life: Lessons Learned from Scaling Reusable Cups]. In addition to examining the realities of consumer behavior and retail operations when deploying reuse systems, one critical question we recently investigated is: what happens when a reusable cup ends up in the recycling system?

Reusable foodservice packaging is often designed for durability––both in how long it can be reused and how many times it can be washed––but not always for recyclability. As a result, when reusable cups are decommissioned, or end up anywhere but the reuse bin, they inevitably end up in our waste streams. From NextGen’s consumer research, we know that unless disposal options are convenient, these cups will likely end up as waste. Designing reusable packaging for both consistent reuse and eventual recyclability will help increase recovery opportunities and reduce waste to landfill and the environment.

How do we ensure reusable cups do not become waste when they can no longer be reused or end up in a recycling bin rather than a reuse bin?

Testing is key. There are excellent design guidelines, such as APR’s design for recyclability guidelines, to help suppliers ensure their packaging meets the stated needs of the recycling system today. But reusable cups also need to be tested within the recycling process to see if they can be successfully recovered. There are three critical stages of the recycling process:

  • Collection: how recyclable materials are collected in residential or commercial waste streams
  • Sortation: how a package will flow at a material recycling facility (MRF)
  • Reprocessing: how a package aligns with similar materials to be processed and remanufactured into new materials

 

In early 2023, the NextGen Consortium collaborated with Van Dyk Technology Center to test how a dozen different reusable polypropylene (PP) cups would sort within a MRF and see if they would end up in the correct material bale, in this case PP.

The test mimicked the flow of a typical MRF, followed APR’s sorting guidance and tested how size, compression, 2D and 3D sortation, and near infrared (NIR) sortation impact how well a cup can be sorted. The results were mixed and provide critical design insights for the companies who are manufacturing and deploying reusable cup formats.

The Results: the good, the bad and the unrecyclable.

When designed with recycling in mind, a reusable PP cup should successfully sort into the correct bale at a MRF. In our tests, the top four best performing cup models were sorted correctly more than 90 percent of the time. The test ran 50 samples of each cup through four separate runs so that each cup model ran through the facility 200 times. The results are no coincidence: successful sortability was driven by specific factors, including color, shape, opacity, thickness and material composition. The highest performing cups were typically opaque, thin and rigid but had some flexibility or bounce, and were all read clearly by the optical sensors of the sortation equipment. Cups that performed poorly, sorting less than 50 percent of the time (or sometimes not at all), often were more translucent than their successful counterparts. Overall, while only four of the cups achieved successful sortation (and a fifth cup was borderline), simple design corrections can improve the fate of the others.

Design Tips: Making recyclability a priority for reusable PP cups.

The Van Dyk sortation test gave a window into what happens to various types of reusable PP cups traveling through a MRF. However, this only assessed one step in the recycling process––sortation––and does not confirm compatibility with reclamation systems nor prove that the cup can be recycled effectively into a new package. Additional testing is needed to confirm assumptions that reusable PP cups are truly circular. For now, reusable foodservice packaging companies and suppliers can design with sortation in mind and improve end-of-life outcomes by considering the following:

  • Follow the design guidelines created by APR and other groups: There are many resources available online to help packaging designers/suppliers ensure greater compatibility with the recycling system. For plastic packaging, the APR Design® Guide is a great place to start.
  • Avoid all black plastics: While there have been technological advancements to help sort black plastics, most MRFs do not possess that technology. Both opaque and translucent black packaging is problematic and reusable cup manufacturers should design cups with today’s system in mind. If black is absolutely required, use an NIR sortable black colorant. Colorants that have passed APR testing can be found on APR’s website here.
  • Not all polypropylene is equal: PP is a wide class of material. PP sorters in the recycling process are designed to detect and separate PP that is common to single-use plastic such as tubs and lids; however, other PP grades may not be as easily identified.It is critical to engage with your cup suppliers and test if needed to confirm compatibility.
  • Mono materials (cups made of just one material) are best: A reusable cup that is multi-material (i.e., part plastic, part fiber, part silicone, etc.) is simply not compatible with today’s recycling system. Cups designed to be in a high-volume sharing system should be made of a singular material and avoid too many add-ons. Cups with ridges (i.e., a built-in sleeve) may also impede sortation; however, it does not appear that those design features are overly detrimental.
  • Think twice before adding tech: Tracking systems are typically needed to assess the impact of a reuse system and enable traceability, but features such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags need to be evaluated further for their impact on the recycling system. While an RFID tag is unlikely to hinder a package’s sortability, it might impact whether a material can be reclaimed or recycled. APR’s guidance lists RFID tags as “detrimental,” and the NextGen team is investigating the impact this technology has on the system.

 

When in doubt, TEST.

Despite widely available design guidance, reusable packaging that is not compatible with today’s recycling system continues to be manufactured. The conversation needs to be more nuanced and shift from only discussing designing for durability and the number of washes a package can withstand, to the realities of how the packaging will actually be used and travel through a system. Most reusable wares in an open system would be lucky to hit 40 reuses (which would assume a >95% return rate)! Sortation and recovery testing can help provide reusable foodservice packaging companies with additional peace of mind and ensure that their packaging has a better chance of staying out of landfill.

The NextGen team looks forward to continuing this journey to study and test optimal conditions for reusable packaging to succeed and achieve a positive environmental impact within a circular economy.

How a South Carolina Paper Mill Started Recycling Your Paper Coffee Cups

By Daniel Liswood, Senior Project Director at the Center for the Circular Economy in conversation with Scott Byrne, Director, Global Sustainability Services at Sonoco

September 26, 2023

A spotlight on Sonoco and its recycling tests with the NextGen Consortium

In July 2022, Sonoco announced it would accept paper cups in bales of mixed paper at its paper mill in Hartsville, South Carolina. The NextGen Consortium supported cup trials with Sonoco. Below, we discuss with Scott Byrne, Director, Global Sustainability Services at Sonoco how the organization made this decision and what considerations companies might want to take when exploring the recyclability of different types of packaging.

This work represents part of a forthcoming report on paper cup recovery in the United States intended for release in late fall. 

Scott Byrne, Director, Global Sustainability Services at Sonoco

1. Who is Sonoco and what are you focused on?

Sonoco is a South Carolina-based global packaging company with more than 20 mills worldwide. Among our packaging products, we manufacture rigid paper cans, steel cans, thermoformed plastics and other packaging formats. Sonoco is uniquely positioned as a leading recycler, paper mill operator and paper packaging converter, in addition to other formats, to help push the industry to look towards future innovations and grow end-of-life solutions across the entire paper value chain.

2. How do you typically approach recycling of new products at your mills?

After validating that our mills could recycle rigid paper cans in residential mixed paper, we decided to further demonstrate the ability to recycle other similar polycoated fiber-based containers through the post-consumer mixed paper stream.

3. Where do you currently accept paper cups?

Hartsville, South Carolina. and we are exploring other Sonoco mills as well that use residential mixed paper.

4. What are some of the steps you took to determine that accepting cups wouldn’t create new challenges for your mill?

With support from the NextGen Consortium, we conducted two main activities to assess how cups might behave. First, we conducted lab-based testing of both single- and double-sided poly-coated fiber cups. Second, and after we were confident that the cups would not pose any issues to our equipment, we ran a large-scale trial whereby we dosed in nearly 20 tons of cupstock and cups into our pulper alongside other mixed paper, increasing the volume relative to other materials to test the system and upper bounds of materials we’d anticipate receiving if we accepted cups. Based on those results we felt confident that cups could be included in our accepted materials list and we were thrilled to have the mill listed alongside others on Foodservice Packaging Institute’s end market map of mills that accept cups.

5. What about your other paper mills?

Before we broadly accept cups at more of our mills, we’d want to distill our findings from the Hartsville location and consider any additional steps those mills would need to take to feel confident in accepting cups. This might include additional lab-and mill-based trials.

6. Any advice you’d give to other mills considering including cups?

Every mill is slightly different, from their equipment to operating conditions to inbound material mix. Testing to those conditions is a key proof point in determining what might work best in that location.

7. What’s next for Sonoco in its efforts to improve polycoated paper recycling?

Sonoco is a founding member of the Polycoated Paper Alliance that kicked-off in March 2023, which aims to increase widespread end-market acceptance of polycoated paper packaging products. We are collaborating with like-minded member brands and industry leaders on developing improved and harmonized data, updated design guidelines, expanded end market acceptance and upgraded mill specifications, among other initiatives.  

How AI Could Change the Way We Think About Recycling

By The Center for the Circular Economy and the NextGen Consortium

September 11, 2023

 Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and the NextGen Consortium launch a new study with AI technology company Greyparrot to analyze the composition of polypropylene in recycling streams

Behind the walls of recycling facilities across the U.S., a sea of materials moves through hands and machines working hard to get them to the end of the line––and the beginning of their next life. A critical balance of manual labor and automation enables the sorting and recovery of these materials in a closed loop system. Yet despite a multi-step sortation process, it is difficult to track what flows through the system at all times. It’s a challenge that results in many recycled materials losing potential value, in addition to millions of dollars worth of valuable material being sent to landfill unintentionally.

Among the diverse materials flowing through the recycling system are the yogurt containers, and iced coffee and fountain beverage cups many of us use on a regular basis. These are just a few examples of products made of one of the most commonly used resins in foodservice packaging today: polypropylene (PP). PP is a valuable material that should be kept in circulation to reduce waste and meet corporate commitments to use more recycled content in foodservice packaging. With that said, very little mechanically recycled food-grade PP actually cycles back into food-grade applications. Most end up in nonfood-grade applications that limit their value and the number of times they can be reused. To create a more circular path for food-grade PP, we must first answer the question: what is in the PP stream today, and how much of it is food-grade or clear food-grade PP?

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year industry collaboration addressing single-use foodservice packaging waste by advancing solutions across material innovation, reuse and recovery infrastructure––and it’s working to answer that question. In the fall of 2022, the Consortium partnered with Resource Recycling Systems to examine PP bales in two materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to learn what was inside. While only a snapshot in time, the results were enlightening.

On average, nearly half of the PP bales (48%) were presumed food-grade, and more than a quarter of the bales were clear food-grade (26%). Clear beverage cups represented 14% of the bale on average. The high percentage of food-grade PP suggested that there is untapped value in the PP stream. A better system is required to ensure food-grade and/or clear food-grade PP is properly sorted into a separate bale at some point in the value chain if we are to retain its highest potential value.

This year, the NextGen Consortium is diving even deeper, launching a first-of-its-kind study leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the composition of the PP material stream well before it ends up in a bale. Together with its managing partner––Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy––the NextGen Consortium is working with Greyparrot, a leading AI waste analytics platform for the circular economy. The collaboration aims to track and categorize objects in the PP stream, and determine the volume of valuable food-grade material passing through the system. AI is on the rise as one potential means of increasing visibility into the recycling process. Today, more technologies are needed to handle an increasingly mixed stream of collected materials, including plastics, electronics, textiles and food scraps––and to enable the recovery of clean, high-quality materials.

“Ensuring that recovery infrastructure can keep pace with a rapidly growing and diverse material stream is critical to advancing the circular economy, alongside solutions such as material innovation, reduction and reuse,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “An important part of our work in the NextGen Consortium is identifying opportunities for data collection and analysis that can advance the circularity of foodservice packaging, and drive greater value for stakeholders across the system, including brands, innovators, infrastructure operators and consumers.”

As part of this project, the Greyparrot Analyser units will be installed above the PP recovery conveyor belts at four leading U.S. MRFs: Balcones Recycling, TX; Cougles Recycling, PA; Rumpke Recycling, OH; and Eureka Recycling, MN. Greyparrot’s AI-powered computer vision system uses cameras to capture images of objects in the PP stream, aiming to quantify and qualify the materials flowing through the MRFs. Their AI model will look to categorize each object based on material, format, financial value and brand, as well as distinguish food- and nonfood-grade material, using those images. Their units will then send that data to an analytics dashboard in real-time. Through machine learning, the flexible vision systems can help improve their package recognition and classification over time.

“We use artificial intelligence to gain continuous and reliable visibility into recycling streams,” said Ambarish Mitra, Co-founder and CPO of Greyparrot. “This helps us improve recycling operations by placing waste intelligence into the hands of the people who are recovering, redesigning and remanufacturing the objects we throw away. We are thrilled to work with our U.S. partners towards our vision of a future where every piece of waste is valued as a resource.”

The collaborative project––a first of its kind in North America––will run for more than six months. During that period, it will gather data on the composition of PP bales over time, while accounting for seasonality. That insight can help determine the potential untapped value in these streams, and identify other materials that might be coming through unintentionally. This data can also help shed light on the presumed volume of food-grade material being captured in the system, along with opportunities for recovery and separation into distinct value chains. More broadly, this can advance a circular economy for valuable materials, improve material quality delivered to recycling facilities, and enhance the value of recyclable commodities shipped to U.S. end markets.

“A lot is unknown about the curbside polypropylene stream today. Filling these knowledge gaps can increase the pace of development for material recovery. Understanding the composition of the stream in a large-scale study highlights potential, reduces risk for pioneers and accelerates better design implementation. This study will be the catalyst to developing much larger-scale recycling of polypropylene,” said Curt Cozart, President of Common Sense Solutions and Technical Advisor to the project.

PP cup recovery––alongside material innovation, reuse and fiber cup recovery––is a critical focus for the NextGen Consortium. According to The Recycling Partnership, more than 2 billion pounds of PP are generated every year by single-family households in the U.S. If just 30% of this material were recovered, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 300,000 metric tons, providing over 600 million pounds of valuable raw material to companies with recycled content commitments for their foodservice packaging, both voluntary and mandated.

The NextGen Consortium has been actively involved in PP recovery since 2021, when it joined The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition as a Steering Committee member. Through this initiative, the group helps to fund equipment grants for MRFs so that they can effectively capture PP packaging, and improve community recycling access rates. In addition to improving recycling access, the NextGen Consortium is committed to driving recycling rates by supporting the recovery of post-consumer recycled content (PCR) that can be re-incorporated into packaging.

This collaboration with Greyparrot and MRFs across the U.S. is one critical step toward achieving the NextGen Consortium’s goals. As more data about the PP material stream is captured over the next six months, the Consortium will analyze the new data, identifying opportunities to improve PP sortation and recovery into higher value, new food-grade applications and areas where more research is needed. The NextGen Consortium continues to invite additional MRFs to participate in the project, to gain a better understanding into what is flowing through their material streams and identify ways to drive more value to the system.

About the NextGen Consortium

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization, and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo as sector lead partners. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is  at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: Closed Loop Capital Management, the Center for the Circular Economy and Circular Services. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in, and support scalable innovations that target big system problems. Learn more about the Center’s work here.

Reuse

Making Reuse an Everyday Reality: 3 Things We Must Consider Before Scale 

By

September 06, 2023

Reuse is now at a critical stage of development. A plethora of innovation has expanded the realm of possibilities, but what will it take to get to the point of industry-scale disruption?

Earlier this year, seven winners of the highly anticipated 2023 Reusies were announced on stage at GreenBiz’s Circularity23 Conference in Seattle. The winners encompassed corporate and community initiatives, and B2B and B2C reuse innovations across food & beverage, consumer packaged goods and fashion & apparel. Together, they provided a window into the best and brightest developments in the reuse space. Indeed, hundreds of start-ups and large corporates are working on making reuse an everyday reality for consumers, with applications as far-ranging as closed system solutions for corporate campuses and events, to software companies supporting reuse-as-a-service, and refill applications in retail or in commercial, industrial and event spaces. The potential for reuse to reduce waste has catalyzed much innovation and brought conversations to a fever pitch. 

Reuse is now at a critical stage of development. A plethora of innovation has expanded the realm of possibilities, but what will it take to get to the point of industry-scale disruption? Making reuse a far-reaching and everyday reality––where reusable items are consistently and efficiently reused to make a significant difference and reduce environmental impact––requires continued testing, collaboration across the value chain, investment and supportive policy.

At Closed Loop Partners, reuse systems are an integral part of our vision of a transition away from the take-make-waste economy and toward a circular economy. When products that have historically been single-use are able to be used two, five, ten or one hundred times, and the proper recovery infrastructure is in place for their eventual end-of-life, that can make a meaningful difference on reducing valuable materials sent to landfill––and on the embodied carbon, water and materials required to produce the item in the first place. 

But to get to this next horizon, a number of factors must be considered to ensure that reuse does not result in unintended consequences and instead serves a truly circular economy: 

1. Closed or semi-closed reuse systems are a key starting point, especially at early stages of adoption. On-premise reuse unlocks higher return rates which can make reuse systems profitable––or at least breakeven. In open systems, as consumers use and dispose products away from point of adoption, more complex collection networks and communication strategies are needed to drive returns. For this reason, closed systems can operate with lower upfront capital expenditures and lower recurring operating expenditures until the time at which consumer behavior has shifted to be more amenable to open systems (see #3!). 

 

2. Reuse is a hardware-first business, and requires capital and collaborations to build localized infrastructure––including collection, sorting and washing. There continues to be a shortage of washing infrastructure needed for reuse solutions, and traditional waste management players are not currently set up for the type of collection and sorting needed for reusable products that are intended to stay in circulation for more than one use. Many software-only solutions still require partnerships with washers and logistics providers. There is an opportunity for founders, corporates and municipal governments to build out these partnerships to enable reuse and share in the funding that will be required to build this new infrastructure.
 

3. Broad consumer adoption starts with meeting customers where they are today. There are still many customers that have yet to be onboarded into the reuse culture. As we’ve seen in our work through the Beyond the Bag Consortium and the NextGen Consortium, we need to design solutions with current behaviors in mind and support customers as they build new habits. Advancing reuse won’t happen overnight; cross-industry and cross-company collaboration, a range of solutions, clear messaging and consistent regulatory frameworks are required to effectively support consumers in adopting reuse within their communities, as the industry addresses complex waste challenges. Importantly, in-market testing plays a key role in unlocking what works effectively in the market and meets customer needs. Today’s market is complex, with diverse customer demographics and shopping habits, different operations across retailers, a range of reuse packaging materials and more that need to be considered.  

We see experimentation as a critical precedent to scale. Reuse is no simple feat, and testing market fit and operation alignment is an important step to expand reuse responsibly and mitigate unintended consequences that can happen without a measured examination of new systems. But isolated, small-scale experiments will not get us there. Closed Loop Partners runs multi-brand reuse tests through its Center for the Circular Economy to identify tactics that are proven and ready to scale, as well as models that require further tweaking and iteration to deliver the expected environmental and financial outcomes. While we work to scale proven solutions, we continue to de-risk systems that need refinement. Our in-field deployments intentionally mimic large-scale, cross-brand implementation, but in a controlled manner. The insights and data gleaned from these tests are key stepping stones to new rounds of implementation and scale. Most recently, the Beyond the Bag Consortium’s largest multi-brand reusable bag pilots tested a range of reuse solutions to understand what it will take to effectively drive reduction of single-use plastic bags. Next year, the NextGen Consortium will go back into market to test the viability of reusable cup systems across multiple brands. These tests unlock important insights on what it will take to build a culture of reuse and will serve as the foundation for identifying scalable initiatives. 

With all these developments, we believe we’ll get there. There are tremendous tailwinds supporting the development of reuse and a multitude of communities, innovators and corporations committed to seeing the shift through. To do so, the next five years are critical to pivot from bespoke solutions to shared frameworks, from ad hoc consumer engagement to a consistent drumbeat, and from in market tests to truly scaled solutions. We are excited to be working to advance the transition from innovation to scaled solutions that can replace single-use. Join us! 

This article represents perspectives from across Closed Loop Partners, including the Center for the Circular Economy and Closed Loop Capital Management. Special thanks to Kate Daly, Carol Lobel, Danielle Joseph, Aly Bryan and Anne-Marie Kaluz for sharing their thoughts for this piece. 

Upstream and Closed Loop Partners Announce Finalists of The Reusies® 2022

By

June 15, 2022

Making Throw Away Go Away

The Reusies: “The Oscars of the Reuse Movement” celebrates heroes championing a world without waste

 

NEW YORK June 15, 2022 – Upstream, a non-profit sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution, today announced the finalists of the Second Annual Reuse Awards, The Reusies® 2022. The Reusies is a groundbreaking awards program honoring changemakers developing a better way than throw-away, advancing systemic change and co-creating a world where we can get what we need and want without all the waste.  In 2021, the inaugural Reusies received nominations and submissions from over 1,200 leading startups, environmental activists and community leaders in the United States that are growing the reuse movement.  This year, with the growing momentum behind reuse, The Reusies is expanding upon that reach and furthering their mission of celebrating the heroes of the reuse movement across the United States and Canada.

The second annual Reusies awards ceremony will be livestreamed on September 29, 2022 and presented in partnership with circular economy-focused investment firm and innovation center, Closed Loop Partners.

“The 2022 Reusies continues the momentum and excitement from last year’s event and will celebrate the pioneers and innovators of the new reuse economy,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO and Chief Solutioneer at Upstream. “Our goal is to highlight the individuals and organizations who recognize the urgency of the moment, and are working on the systemic changes we need to drastically reduce plastic pollution not in five or ten years, but right now.”

Honors to be awarded during the show include Most innovative Reuse Company, Corporate Initiative of the Year, Activist of the Year, and Reuse Community of the Year. Free tickets and VIP passes are available now at www.TheReusies.org. The final winners will be announced during the show.

“We face an urgent and growing global waste challenge,” said Bridget Croke, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners. “We are proud to partner with Upstream on the annual Reusies to drive forward the reuse trailblazers and incredible ecosystem of innovators paving the way to a waste-free future. This is critical to our work to research, test and scale solutions that keep valuable materials in play and accelerate the transition to a circular economy.”

Upstream and Closed Loop Partners received hundreds of nominations from across the U.S. and Canada and the top finalists – selected by committees composed of The Reusies partners, experts and thought leaders across the industry – are all great examples of organizations and individuals who are advancing reuse from within their local communities to the biggest brands in the world .

The finalists for Most Innovative Reuse Company – expanded to four categories this year considering the exponential growth of the reuse movement since 2021 – are:

The finalists for the remaining three categories are:

Similar to last year, award winners will be selected by a combined panel of judges and public voting. Judges include:

  1. Cam Pascual, Senior Program Officer, Plastic and Waste, World Wildlife Fund

  2. Chris Dickerson, former MLB player/Co-Founder, Players for the Planet

  3. Doreen Wong, Entrepreneurship Lead, Sustainable Ocean Alliance

  4. Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, Pediatrician, Founder/CEO at AHIMSA®

  5. Michelle Tulac, Senior Project Manager – North America at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 

  6. Suz Okie, Director of Design Strategy & Senior Analyst, Circular Economy at GreenBiz Group

  7. Poonam Watine, Knowledge Specialist, World Economic Forum

  8. William McDonough, Chief Executive, McDonough Innovation and Co-author, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things

The event will be broadcast on September 29, 2022 at 4:00 PM PT / 7:00 PM ET and will include profiles on the finalists, award presentations and special guest appearances.

General admission is free and opens today at www.TheReusies.org. All ticket holders are automatically entered to win a Gibson Hummingbird Guitar valued at $3,999 and generously donated by Gibson Gives.

VIP group packages which include a virtual watch party in a branded suite (10 screens), opportunity to host an in-person watch party (1 screen) with inclusion in the live broadcast and other perks are available for purchase ($2,500 for an individual host, $3,000 for a corporate host). Individual VIP tickets are also available at $250 each. Category-exclusive sponsorship, advertising opportunities and brand integrations are also available. For more information, email [email protected]. For press inquiries, contact [email protected]; social: #TheReusies @Upstream_org @LoopFund.

Promotional partners of The Reusies 2022 include:


About Upstream: 

Upstream is an environmental non-profit sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution by helping people, businesses and communities shift from single-use to reuse. The organization’s second annual National Reuse Awards (aka The Reusies), will take place virtually on September 29, 2022.  To learn more about all Upstream programs, visit www.upstreamsolutions.org and follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube.

About Closed Loop Partners:

Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity and catalytic capital, as well as an innovation center focused on building the circular economy. Investments align capitalism with positive social and environmental impact by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions via materials innovation, advanced recycling technologies, supply chain optimization and landfill diversion. Learn more at closedlooppartners.com.

From 480 Innovative Submissions to 12 Sustainable Solutions: Where are the NextGen Cup Challenge Winners Now?

By Bea Miñana

April 13, 2022

Four key drivers have accelerated sustainable packaging innovation in the last 3 years 

In 2018, the NextGen Consortium launched its first initiative, the NextGen Cup Challenge––a global design competition seeking to identify and commercialize existing and future solutions for the single-use, hot and cold fiber cup system. Students, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, designers and businesses were invited to submit their ideas for the cup of the future. After a rigorous four-month review process, the Challenge narrowed nearly 500 submissions from over 50 countries down to 12 winners. 

These 12 winning solutions––broadly categorized into innovative cup liners, new materials and reusable cup service models––were chosen for their potential to help turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into valuable materials that can be reused and recovered. 

Today, many of these innovations continue to disrupt the status quo of the single-use cup, a seemingly convenient product that has come with a steep price over the years: cups ending up in landfills, creating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. As companies look for ways to shift their business practices away from a wasteful take-make-waste system, there are tremendous opportunities for new solutions. The next wave of cup design is more innovative than ever, with new materials that can reduce environmental impact, and new systems that can keep valuable materials in play for longer.  

Over the last three years, we’ve seen the pandemic alter consumer preferences, more corporations commit to sustainability goals, and policy transform the landscape for circular packaging solutions, including reuse models. Amidst all these changes, NextGen Cup Challenge winners are paving a path forward in line with four key trends:  

1. New materials are increasingly competitive as an alternative to single-use plastic 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner, Footprint, continues to expand in its mission to replace single-use plastics with plant-based fiber at major food companies, retailers and consumer packaged goods companies, across categories including shelf-stable cups, meat trays and dairy. The company’s plant-based plates, bowls and other food-service items are in concession stands at Footprint Center, home of the winning NBA and WNBA teams, Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. This long-term naming-rights partnership between Footprint and the Suns management group puts a spotlight on sustainability, fan education and reducing the environmental impact of sports and entertainment events. In December 2021, Footprint announced a SPAC merger with Gores Holdings VIII, and is accelerating growth in key verticals like supermarkets, stadiums, and geographically in Europe, opening an R&D center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and expanding production in Poland with new factories coming online in the coming year. 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner, MM Kotkamills Boards, is developing new materials for a range of packaging types, including and beyond the cup. The company’s Oy’s ISLA® Duo material for hot beverages offers an alternative to polyethylene (PE) extrusion-based cups. The product is now in regular production and sold worldwide. MM Kotkamills has also widened their family of sustainable barrier board products with their new ISLA® Ice and Cream board solution for selling ice cream in retail stores and over the counter. Their new generation fiber solution-based ISLA® Duo is widely used in the event industry. The fiber-based cups are collected and recycled, with the cups’ wood fibers reused in the production of other fiber-based sustainable solutions, such as tissue paper or corrugated board. 

Colombier has widened their product range since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge. Their EcoBarrier Flex™, a pure paper solution with an innovative barrier, acts like plastic to preserve food products, prolonging shelf-life. EcoBarrier Flex was designed as primary packaging for cookies, potato chips, candy, food bars, powders and other food products, and is now piloting with major food brands. 

2. Reuse is going mainstream 

Significant changes have happened in its home country of Germany since RECUP was announced as one of the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge. A law was passed that obliges catering establishments to offer a reusable alternative for to-go food packaging, advancing more widespread use of reusable systems. This important milestone supports the continued growth of RECUP, especially as they launch REBOWL, their new reusable alternative for take-away food. Since the NextGen Cup Challenge, RECUP has received several honors for their reusable packaging, including the “Blauer Engel”, the “European Reusable Award” and the Bavarian Environmental Medal. In 2020, RECUP partnered with McDonald’s in Germany on a reusable cup system. 

3. Strategic partnerships are expanding the reach of innovative solutions 

 

Since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge, Muuse has grown its network around the world. In 2019, the company expanded their track and trace reuse service in Hong Kong and partnered with Swire Properties to reduce waste within Taikoo Place. In 2021, they expanded their reuse service in Toronto, Canada. And in early 2022, they launched a partnership with Starbucks, enabling reuse at Starbucks stores at the National University of Singapore. They have also been working with GrabFood and food panda in Singapore to provide reusables for food delivery. Overall, they have been able to save 70,000+ single-use items from entering the waste stream, working with over 100 partners. In 2021, the team lost their founder, Brian Reilly, who is greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. The Muuse team is extremely honored to continue out his legacy and push forward his vision for reuse. 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner WestRock recently joined forces with Tim Hortons as a brand partner for their pilot cup, which is expected to launch soon at select Vancouver restaurants. In addition to innovating a recyclable cup, the company continues to explore recyclable barrier technologies designed for the specific needs of other food packaging, including ice cream pints, lined water cups and yogurt cups. 

 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner PTT MCC was selected as one of the market testing solutions for compostable and recyclable paper cups by Starbucks in select stores in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and London. Many other brands have engaged the company to develop more sustainable paper cups solution using BioPBS, the company’s bio-based material for packaging. 

4.Capital is accelerating the growth of solutions  

Earlier this year, NextGen Cup Challenge winner SoluBlue won the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge, a global sustainability award and one of the largest annual competitions in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship. Their seaweed-based polymer technology that helps extend the shelf-life of food, reducing both plastic waste and food waste, was selected from more than 650 startups competing from across Europe. The award of €500,000 in prize money will be used by SoluBlue to help scale up their technology for pilot production among retailers.  

 

Since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge, CLUBZERØ has gained even more market interest, with more than 380 investors committed to helping their fight for zero waste. Since the launch of their public crowdfunding campaign, CLUBZERØ has to date achieved over 120% of its goal. In September 2021, CLUBZERØ launched their reusable packaging to tackle plastic pollution across the takeaway sector in London, subsequently announcing partnerships with Just Eat, King’s Cross, ReLondon, Camden Council and First Mile. Having completed over 50,000 orders in Q4 2021, CLUBZERØ welcomed new U.S investors including Chris Vance (ex-Tesla + Impossible Foods) and partnered with Nestlé (Nescafé) to provide reusable packaging. 

Where do we go from here?  

The tremendous gains of these companies show that the road to circular foodservice packaging is being built quickly. Through its grant funding, business acceleration, testing and curated in-market pilots, the NextGen Consortium continues to strengthen the ecosystem of companies, innovators, investors, policymakers and consumers paving the way forward. This is just the beginning of our collective journey, and we are excited for a future in which circular packaging is the standard rather than the exception. 

Starbucks and McDonald’s Deploy Additional $10 Million with NextGen Consortium to Accelerate the Circularity of Foodservice Packaging & Address Urgent Waste Challenge

By

October 20, 2021

The Consortium expands its work to advance reusable packaging systems, strengthen recycling and composting infrastructure and scale foodservice packaging innovation

NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2021 — Today, Closed Loop Partners announced an additional $10 million commitment from the NextGen Consortium‘s Founding Partners, Starbucks and McDonald’s, to continue the Consortium’s work: identifying, accelerating and scaling commercially viable, circular foodservice packaging solutions. The Coca-Cola Company increased its commitment to now participate as a Sector Lead Partner, paving the way for sustainable packaging solutions for its broad customer base. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands will continue their participation as Supporting Partners in the Consortium, and the Consortium continues to invite other brands to join the effort.

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium has made significant headway in advancing sustainable packaging innovation and recycling infrastructure to help end foodservice packaging waste, with an initial focus on redesigning the single-use hot and cold fiber cup. The Consortium’s NextGen Cup Challenge sourced 480 solutions globally to redesign the cup, selecting 12 winning solutions across three areas: innovative cup & cup liners, new materials, and reusable cup service models. Following the Challenge, the Consortium has continued to advance the development of innovative cup and cup liner innovations, and the Consortium’s Circular Business Accelerator supported six early-stage teams to help test and refine their solutions.

In 2019 and 2020, Accelerator teams executed on-the-ground tests at a large tech company’s campus with four solutions, including two reusable systems, moving to the pilot phase across 14 local, independent cafes in the San Francisco Bay area. These solutions received valuable feedback from customers, restaurants and other key stakeholders. Drawing on insights from those pilots, the Consortium released a first-of-its-kind report, Bringing Reusable Packaging Systems to Life, sharing a blueprint and open-source resource to encourage collaboration and the growth of reuse models. The Consortium also continued its work across the broader foodservice packaging value chain, conducting dozens of lab- and commercial-scale tests with recyclers, material test labs and paper mills to evaluate the performance, recyclability and recoverability of the fiber cup solutions. As part of this work, the Consortium collaborates with paper mills, recycling facilities and municipalities to expand recycling access and recovery of fiber cups as well as NextGen cups.

“Through NextGen, we’ve made great progress in growing more sustainable packaging solutions, and there is a lot more work to be done. Faced with increasing climate risks, eco-conscious customers and a resource-constrained world, the foodservice industry must double down on its efforts and band together to strategically tackle the mounting waste challenge,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Starbucks, McDonald’s and other partners in the Consortium make clear their commitment to collaboratively accelerate more circular foodservice packaging solutions, and we encourage stakeholders––from packaging manufacturers to recyclers to designers––to join us in advancing NextGen solutions.” 

With the additional $10 million in funding, the Consortium will expand its efforts, including and beyond the fiber cup, to strengthen the sustainable packaging ecosystem. The Consortium will deepen its customer research and testing of reusable packaging systems, explore the circularity of additional packaging materials such as polypropylene (PP), and accelerate the development of more widely recyclable and compostable fiber-based packaging solutions, as well as the infrastructure pathways needed for their recovery. The Consortium’s increased focus on PP is driven by the growing demand for recycled PP in foodservice packaging, and the need to optimize recycling infrastructure to capture the material. With its additional focus on polypropylene, in 2020, the Consortium joined The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition as a Steering Committee member, collaborating to allocate millions of dollars in grants to recycling facilities to improve polypropylene recycling.

“Starbucks’ work with the NextGen Consortium has been an important part of our ongoing efforts to reduce single use cup waste, part of our larger goal to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks. “There has never been a more critical time for industry collaboration to shift away from single-use packaging, promote reusability, and champion recyclability. We are thrilled to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium to drive sustainable solutions for our planet.”

“Over the last three years, the NextGen Consortium has demonstrated that working together as an industry helps accelerate sustainable change, and is paving a clear pathway forward for the industry to scale packaging solutions that can benefit the planet and the communities we serve,” said Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s North America. “Knowing that industry-wide collaboration is essential to creating lasting, scalable impact, we invite others to join us in this important work to advance solutions and eliminate packaging waste.”

Individual waste mitigation efforts by Founding Partners Starbucks and McDonald’s further bolster the Consortium’s work to accelerate sustainable packaging innovation, foster more robust recovery opportunities for packaging, and develop, enhance and optimize emerging reuse models. Starbucks continues to innovate to encourage the use of personal reusable cups in stores, most recently in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, and will continue to test and learn from programs geared toward reducing single-use cups around the world. McDonald’s has also made strides toward reuse, partnering with TerraCycle’s Loop platform to pilot reusable cups in the brand’s UK stores, and continues to make tremendous progress in ensuring its packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources.

“Getting to a circular economy will require every community, organization and industry to be involved in making it a reality. The food & beverage industry touches all people, and so the need for more sustainable packaging for our customers is a top priority,” said Alpa Sutaria, General Manager, Sustainability, North America Operating Unit, The Coca-Cola Company. “We are proud not only to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium, but to increase our commitment, now as a Sector Lead Partner. We invite others to join us in this effort to strengthen and scale circular solutions for packaging.”

“With approximately 11 million metric tons of plastic waste ending up in our oceans every year, we need to bring circular packaging solutions to the table. We know that to tackle this massive, shared challenge, all stakeholders have to be involved,” said Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste + Business at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF is an environmental advisory partner for the Consortium. “The NextGen Consortium can play an important role in catalyzing the collaboration we need by enabling cross-sector partnerships and open-source insight sharing, and we are proud to be a partner in this important work.”

Moving forward, even greater collaboration among businesses, industry groups, nonprofits and others will be needed to solve systemic waste challenges. Through the expanded commitment of the NextGen Consortium, the multi-year collaboration will continue to work across the value chain––with global brands, municipalities, NGOs, recyclers and manufacturers––to advance viable market solutions that scale throughout the supply chain and bring value to recovery systems.

About the NextGen Consortium

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization, and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company joining as a sector lead partner. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity, project-based finance and an innovation center. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in, and support scalable innovations that target big system problems. Learn more about the Center’s work here.