While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many plastic or plastic-lined paper coffee cups end up in the trash in the U.S. every year, we know it’s a lot: One analysis puts the number is about 50 billion, while another believes the amount to be closer to 130 million. Whatever the actual number, it’s clear our use of coffee cups is contributing to the global problem plastic pollution.
It’s a lot of waste — and a lot of single-use plastic that will never completely break down. Fortunately, some entrepreneurs are putting their minds to the problem. One idea showing a lot of promise comes from the San Francisco- and Germany-based company GaeaStar. GaeaStar is creating zero-waste clay cups that are designed to be high-end, disposable and produced locally on-demand to reduce transportation costs.
According to the company’s website, its cups are suitable for both cold and hot beverages. They are made from clay, water and salt, so they are what the company calls “geo-neutral” and will have no effect on the environment. You can simply throw a cup onto the ground and smash it, if that’s how you want to dispose of it (as long as no one is around to get hurt by shards of ceramic material, that is).
“They come from earth and return to earth in essentially the same form. You can smash them on the ground, and they simply turn to dust. Recycling is no longer required,” GaeaStar posted on Instagram.
The company’s founder, Sanjeev Mankotia, told CNet that he got the idea from a cousin while visiting family in India. She drank chai she bought from a street vendor, which came in a terracotta cup called a kulhar.
“She drank the cup, and then smashed it on the ground,” Mankotia told CNet. “And I was like, ‘You’re throwing something away that’s creating litter.’ And her reaction was, ‘It’s made out of dirt, why is this an issue?'”
In fact, the idea of using disposable kulhars — which have an at least 3,500 year history — as a solution to the single-use culture isn’t new. It has been promoted for years. But this exchange with his relative led Mankotia to figure out how he could combine an old-fashioned, sustainable practice with current technology to reduce waste.
The cups, GaeaStar says, are 10 times stronger than paper cups and are made using 3D printers on-demand (they’re patent-pending) in just 10 seconds. This means they use about 60% less energy than making a plastic or paper cup for about the same price.
For now, if you’d like to see them in action, you can visit a Verve Coffee Shop in California. In April, the company held an event to promote the cups with coffee ice-cream floats at a Palo Alto location. An ad was posted by PR company VSC to Twitter:
Coffee lovers – this event is for you! This Thursday 4/20, GaeaStar is teaming up with @Vervecoffee to allow attendees to sample coffee ice cream floats featuring Verve’s fan-favorite Nitro served in GaeaStar’s #zerowaste cups.
— VSC (@VSCPR) April 18, 2023
GaeaStar is still in the beginning stages of making itself a presence. It appears to be working on certain aspects of its business, such as creating a FAQ for its site and drawing in investors, according to Marketwatch. But these cups — as cheap as plastic, with fewer energy costs and guilt-free coffee-buying — sound promising.