Starbucks Inc., the international icon in coffee, announced the NextGen Cup Challenge on Tuesday in search of an environmentally conscious upgrade to the traditional paper cup. Starbucks puts the brightest minds to the test with a prize of $10 million and grants to fund the work of scientists and inventors.


The disposable cup industry is estimated at over $600 billion a year. Starbucks believes they represent at least one percent of this waste being sent to landfills. A press release from Starbucks asserted, “This is the first step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that would allow cups around the world to be diverted from landfills and composted or given a second life as another cup, napkin or even a chair — anything that can use recycled material.”


Starbucks is partnering with Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, a firm dedicated to recycling and reusable materials, to improve the current 10% post-consumer materials found in Starbucks’ paper cups. They hope to capitalize on Natural Resources Defense Counsel’s estimates that $11.4 billion market value is lost each year by using disposable packaging.


Coca Cola, McDonalds, and other titans of the food industry have made pledges in the last six months to cut emissions and increase recycled or compostable packaging. Whether it be profit, image, or mission, environmental concerns have reached a tipping point where it is financially prudent to find a greener way. Public opinion and the rising cost of finite resources continue to push an eco-friendly future escorted by the food and beverage industry.