The NextGen Cup Consortium, an effort driven by McDonald's and Starbucks, is debuting reusable cup pilot programs at independent coffee shops around San Francisco and Palo Alto, California. The consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners' Center for the Circular Economy.

NextGen's Cup Challenge, launched in 2018, has focused on creating a more sustainable and economically sound alternative to traditional beverage containers. Many paper cups in particular are often a challenge to recycle, given their plastic lining.

The concepts being introduced by two different start-ups take a very different approach to what most consumers currently experience. The Muuse cups in San Francisco come with QR codes and are intended to be scanned upon pick-up and drop-off within five days, with patrons given a 25-cent discount. Failure to return the cups will result in a $15 charge. CupClub models will meanwhile have RFID tags and can be stacked at drop-off points in Palo Alto.

"In previous pilots we have achieved a 97% return rate through return incentives and product features in app," said CupClub founder and CEO Safia Qureshi. "We will be keeping a close eye on these metrics during the pilot."

Georgia Sherwin, a CLP spokesperson, told Waste Dive that the Muuse cups are made from powder-coated, double-walled stainless steel, and come with a polypropylene lid and a silicone seal. The CupClub models are   composed of virgin polypropylene, with low-density polyethylene lids. Both programs will play out over a one-month trial period.

The pilot programs are limited to two cities, but the NextGen Cup Challenge is seeking a "moon shot" attempt to provide solutions for both hot and cold beverage containers on a larger scale. Other members include Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Nestlé, and Yum! Brands, which owns chains such as KFC and Taco Bell. 

The new pilot programs come amid a wider shift as industry players face public scrutiny and increasing pressure to meet their climate and environmental goals. Last month, Starbucks announced plans to achieve a 50% reduction in waste sent to landfills from both stores and manufacturing by 2030. The company said it aims to be "resource-positive" and the announcement also included a commitment to continuing the NextGen Cup Challenge. 

Compostables remain an attractive alternative for companies seeking sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics and proponents argue they bridge an important gap between disposables and a completely reusable system. Beginning in March, Footprint LLC and PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited will debut either compostable or recyclable cups in Oakland, California, as part of NextGen's ongoing efforts.