In late 2016, following the BBC ‘War on Waste’ campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal, we, ashortwalk, were asked for our ideas on how to turn used disposable paper coffee cups into new meaningful products.
When we realised 99.6% of cups were going to landfill rather than being recycled we began work on a solution and welcomed this challenge as an opportunity to participate in the creation of a more sustainable future
The reason why most paper cups aren’t recycled is because they have a plastic lining, which makes them difficult to recycle as paper. So we, and our polyment recycling partner – Nextek started to look at the problem differently.
Rather than trying to separate the paper from the liner they took the logical approach of recycling the whole cup. By cleaning and shredding the cup they found a clever way of blending the strong fibres of the cup to a recycled plastic polymer. We were then able to begin work on blending this polymer with other recycled materials to mould it into a new products, the first being the reusable coffee cup, rCUP.
The rCUP reusable coffee cup was designed by our team of product designers to be genuinely useful. The most important thing when designing a reusable is that it works! To eliminate the need for single use cups and bottles, our design had to be functional anywhere, everywhere and be used for a long, long time:
100% Leak proof
Can be opened and closed with one hand
Keeps drinks warm or cool depending on what’s in it
rCUP is the only reusable cup that is made from the single use cups that are still being used in coffee shops and cafes every day and at the end of its very long life – at least 10 years – rCUP is the only reusable that can easily and completely be recycled into the next product.
It’s all about the circular economy – by designing and manufacturing rCUP from used cups we stimulated the demand for the once worthless used disposable paper cup. This demand increases the value of used paper cups, which enables recycling firms to invest in the infrastructure required to recycle them.
In real terms discarded coffee cups have zero value – in fact it actually costs £100 a tonne to dispose of them. But when we capture and collect these cups for recycling, the value increases to around £35 a tonne. If you then process them into a useful polymer the value shoots up to £1,200 a tonne. When this polymer is used to make a new product, say, an rCUP reusable cup, its intrinsic value becomes £20,000 a tonne! This is the huge value of closed loop product design.
The next big step for us was to become a more prominent voice in the world of Circular Design. Since 2003 we have built a solid reputation as a pioneering circular business. We’ve worked with huge multinational companies to help influence and shape how they deal with waste and have made a genuine difference.
In early 2020 we changed our name to “Circular&Co.”, this name change enables us to continue our mission to give waste worth, with a much louder voice and industry presence; the same great products but led by a more powerful brand. With a much more central focus – it’s not just used coffee cups anymore, it’s everything!
We are experts in Circular Design, and we feel a responsibility to raise our voices and show people how the Circular Economy can make a difference.
We firmly believe that a new era of product design has begun. An exciting and necessary age of Circular Design, in which waste is an opportunity and materials are infinitely valuable. Circular products are designed to live long lives. They are made from materials that have been used before and will be absorbed and used again and again.
Circular Design provides a real chance for practical change at a time when the world desperately needs solutions.
Circular Design is that solution.
The Future is Circular.