Starbucks invests $10M in Closed Loop Fund

Starbucks Coffee Co., Seattle, has announced it has committed $10 million in partnership with the Closed Loop Fund and its Center for the Circular Economy to establish a consortium to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge.

This is the first step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that will allow cups around the world to be diverted from landfills and composted or recycled into another cup, napkin or a chair—anything that can use recycled material, the organizations say.

Through the NextGen Cup Challenge, the consortium will award accelerator grants to entrepreneurs working on ideas that could lead to the development of what it calls more sustainable cup solutions. It also invites industry participation and partnership on the way to identify a global solution.

“Our store partners proudly pour sustainably sourced coffee in our 28,000 locations around the world, but everyone wants to take our ability to serve it sustainably to the next level,” says Colleen Chapman, vice president of Starbucks global social impact overseeing sustainability. “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date; it’s just not moving fast enough. So, today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market with a three-year ambition.”

Each year, Starbucks says an estimated 600 billion paper and plastic cups are distributed globally, and though Starbucks cups account for an estimated 1 percent of that total, the company says it is not leaving the problem-solving to others.

“Through this partnership, the challenge will enable leading innovators and entrepreneurs with financial, technical and expert resources to fast-track global solutions, help get those solutions to shelf, through the recovery system and back into the supply chain,” says Rob Kaplan, managing director of Closed Loop Partners.

Closed Loop Fund, an investment fund that finances scaling recycling infrastructure and sustainable manufacturing technologies that advance the circular economy, is part of the New York-based Closed Loop Partners, which invests in what it deems to be sustainable consumer goods, advanced recycling technologies and the development of the circular economy.

“We want to make sure this technology is available to everyone because it’s the right thing to do,” says Andy Corlett, director of packaging R&D for Starbucks. “The idea of environmental sustainability in packaging is not just a Starbucks issue. It’s a global issue. Anything that gets us closer to that goal is not something we want to keep to ourselves.”

As the NextGen Challenge kicks off, internal research continues as Starbucks researchers say they have initiated the trial of a new bioliner, made partially from plant-based materials, for its paper cup. The internal trial, expected to take six months, will test not only for environmental impact but also whether the cup’s liner can stand up to safety requirements and quality standards.