HOUSTON (Nov.1) — Houston-based BioCapital Holdings has undertaken a huge effort to eliminate the environmental consequences of an estimated 600 billion single-use, to-go cups and containers that end up in landfills around the world each year.
Hoping to secure a grant funded by Starbucks and McDonald’s, among other industry leaders, scientists at BioCapital Holdings have been working overtime to create a prototype for the recently-announced NextGen Cup Challenge.
“I was very surprised to learn about the enormous number of cups going into landfills each year when I first researched this initiative,” said Charles Roe, Senior VP at BioCapital Holdings. “As a coffee drinker myself, it never occurred to me the plastic liner in the fiber cups most companies use could present such a huge recycling hurdle.”
Roe learned that modern fiber-based cups, though functional and safe, use a thin plastic liner tightly attached to the cup to help prevent leaks. This liner makes the cup very difficult to recycle and takes about 20 years to decompose.
There are two issues at the core of the problem: how the cups are made and their recoverability value. Except for a handful of specialized facilities in a few major cities, existing recycling plants around the world are not equipped to consistently or cost-effectively separate the fiber from the plastic liner. Thus, most of these cups end up as waste. Compounding the issue, the material that is recovered from fiber cups doesn’t sell for much so there is little financial incentive for the industry to recycle.
“Our company already had developed an organic foam material that can be molded into a soft or hard BioFoam for mattresses and wood substitutes,” Roe said. “I approached our chief scientist to find out if we could adapt this existing material to a cup that eliminated the need for a petroleum-based liner.
“One week later, he created a prototype that effectively held hot liquids. Not only did we now have a prototype, but a few months later our research showed this natural-based cup, when crushed into pieces or composted, was great as a plant fertilizer supplement. He had created a natural cup to drink your beverage of choice and then use it for plant food in your garden.”
The NextGen Cup Challenge will select the top 30 designs in December, and the top six finalists announced in February will then have the opportunity to work with industry leaders to scale production of their cup ideas.
BioCapital Holdings is a Houston based bio-engineering start-up that has developed a diverse portfolio of patented and patent-pending intellectual property using a scientific approach based on synthetic biology. They create biomolecules from yeast-based microbial factories that are activated in a similar way as fermented baker’s yeast in the production of bread and beer.
BioCapital Holdings aims to have a positive global impact by producing valuable compounds and materials that are biodegradable and friendly to the environment. Our focus is on cosmetics, organic UV filters, functional foods, anti-microbial coatings, bio-foam and health applications, such as diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s and diabetes.