On July 3rd, the EU ban on single-use plastics was enforced across member countries, with the goal of minimizing plastic pollution such as marine litter. On the list of banned items, at least 5 out of 10 are packaging products. As such, we expect to see packaging manufacturers, distributors and FMCG producers accelerate green innovations in the space, from reusable items to new takes on the biodegradable cup alternative for coffee.
In this series, The Recursive aims to bring visibility to alternatives to single-use plastics. In each article, we tell the story of a SEE startup working on sustainable packaging solutions. Together, we will explore their unique approach to replacing single-use plastics, their goals for the future, but also the difficulties they had to surpass along the way.
Today, we talk to Cupffee, the Bulgarian startup aiming to provide an alternative to traditional disposable cups for both hot and cold drinks. Worldwide, we drink around 2.5 billion cups of coffee every day, with a third of these sold in disposable cups. In the UK, for instance, 2.5 billion coffee cups were thrown away each year between 2017-2019. Yet a very limited fraction of these cups is recycled due to poor material quality, lack of separate collection, or lack of available recycling technologies. Cupffee aims to offer an edible and biodegradable cup that decomposes in a matter of days.
The Recursive: How did you come up with the idea of an edible and biodegradable cup for coffee?
Miroslav Zapryanov, founder and CEO of Cupffee: At the heart of many successful businesses is the fact that they solve a problem of everyday life. For me, the challenge I wanted to take on was the huge amount of disposable cups that are generated on construction sites. Before creating Cupffee, I worked in the construction industry, running a company with more than 30 people. The large amount of waste I was witnessing and the need for an alternative solution to this problem prompted and inspired me to look for an innovative solution. If even one element of our waste problem is eliminated, it will be a step in the right direction. In 2014, I revived this old idea of creating an alternative to plastic coffee cups. With support from my friends, I began to develop and optimize it until I achieved my goal – an edible, biodegradable cup.
Tell us more about your product. What is the innovation behind it?
As well as being an alternative to classic disposable cups, the Cupffee biodegradble cup also has added value for the customer. It is a unique complement to any drink because of its nice, neutral taste and ability to not alter the flavor of the coffee.
The cup is entirely constructed of natural, ecologically acceptable materials, primarily cereal ingredients. The cup’s end-of-life involves one of two scenarios, both of which are ecologically beneficial. It can be consumed right away, but if the user does not want it, it can be tossed in the non recyclable or organic bin. It decomposes in a matter of days and can become a soil food source.
The technology of production of the Cupffee biodegradable cup is patented. There is no alternative on the market and we had machines specially developed for us. The recipe is a company secret and guarantees the quality and characteristics of the product. We have extremely high-quality standards, in order to meet the high expectations of our customers and the market.
How does your supply chain work?
We have a network of distributors in many countries around the world, with the help of which the service all our customers. We supply our products directly to large worldwide clients such as Lavazza, Lidl, Cathay Pacific, and others.
How did you fund your business?
Personal finances were initially invested in building the company. We also attracted the support and financing of angel investors. With their help and an additional bank loan, we made huge investments in production in 2021, in order to reach full automation. Otherwise, the company and team are currently expanding, and with them the opportunities for further development.
What key lessons did you learn along the journey?
The road to the realization of the idea is long, filled with many obstacles. Strong ambition, faith and perseverance are key things to achieving the unattainable. Yes, the challenge is great, but the satisfaction of demonstrating something that many people have considered unfeasible is the driving force of our business. We create innovation, we work for change, we build what we want to see in the future. What brings us the greatest satisfaction are our happy customers and the interest we spark in this type of innovation from all around the world.
What are your plans going forward?
We are actively working towards entering even more markets and increasing the active distribution network so that we make it accessible to more end users. Our ultimate goal is to turn Cupffee cups into a widely used product, replacing some of the disposable cups in the market.
From a product point of view, we plan to expand the portfolio, by developing complementary products to offer to our customers.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking to innovate in an emerging space?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and keep chasing your goals. If you fail with one idea, don’t give up, try again, or try with another.