InCycle Cup is the Little Cup with Big Plans

BreakingModern – On your next flight, check out your coffee cup. If it’s recyclable, MicroGREEN may have made it. MicroGREEN, Inc. was founded by a handful of recent graduates from the University of Washington in Seattle who decided to rethink plastic waste. They started with this brilliantly engineered insulated coffee cup.

Self-Creating InCycle Cup

Their InCycle cup is made from recycled PET plastic bottles, which can be recycled at the end of their life. The cup is born from #1 recyclable plastic and, after use, it can be recycled and reborn as #1 plastic, because that is the easiest kind of plastic to recycle and divert from landfills. In some cases, it may even be reborn as a new InCycle cup.

Video: InCycle Cups by MicroGREEN

“We are effectively working within the packaging industry, which is the biggest source of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the Pacific Gyre. We want to raise the bar from inside the industry,” said Tom Malone, CEO of MicroGREEN, Inc.

Malone began his career in Malawi, Africa making fuel-efficient cook stoves that were tied to a tree-planting program. His project grew the wood and built stoves that were designed to combust more efficiently, were better for the human respiratory system and protected the rain forest.

“I have spent my career focused on doing right by a community while making a difference and helping the environment,” said Malone.

Group of InCycle Cup

Chris Jacobs, who leads the sustainability programs for MicroGREEN, said that they have a triple bottom line, similar to Patagonia. Unlike Patagonia, which charges consumers for the “environmental value” embedded in its products, MicroGREEN sought to make a recyclable cup without increasing the price in the process. Private investors “who shared our ethos and desire to reduce plastic waste” funded the start-up, said Jacobs.

The PET (water bottle plastic) is sourced in the U.S.

“It is one of our goals to build a viable market that encourages more PET recycling domestically. In a curbside collection, our cups are sorted along with other plastics in a material recovery facility and will usually end up as carpet and clothing fiber, or a park bench or other recycled item. In a closed loop we are going from a bottle to a cup, to a cup, to a cup and so on,” said Jacobs.

Environmentally Minded

The young company’s engineers are fresh out of the University of Washington in Seattle, including founder and CTO, Krishna Nadella. Another employee, Alana, left a large company to work for MicroGREEN after learning about its environmental mission. She has three young girls that are passionate about protecting the environment and wanted to make them proud.

“Millennials can do the world a favor by letting companies know that cheap isn’t good enough, you have to have a product that’s responsible,” says Malone.

MicroGREEN hopes the messages on InCycle cups – which show its completely recycled lifecycle — will influence those who see it. They also hope shoppers will stop buying products that weren’t engineered to protect the environment and avoid landfills.

7oz AlaskaAirlines InCyclecup

“When that happens, it forces the whole industry to take responsibility for the end of life of their products.  Product engineering, materials and assembly all have an impact at end of life,” says Jacobs.

And why introduce your product on the ground if you can help it take flight? This offbeat company approached Alaska Airlines because they knew the airline was already recycling PET cold cups at the end of flights.  And when MicroGREEN asked the eco-oriented airline whether it wanted to recycle its hot cups too, Alaska said: “Yes,” and InCycle cups became Alaska Airline’s hot drink cup.

Malone says United Airlines came to them after seeing InCycle cups at a trade show.

“The airline knew it wanted to get away from Styrofoam cups, and United Airlines wanted to be the first national carrier with an environmentally responsible cup,” says Malone. Both men have received compliments from passengers and flight attendants about the cups on United flights.

10oz United InCycle cup

Ultimately, MicroGREEN hopes its cups will replace both the standard Styrofoam cup and non-recyclable plastic-lined paper cups. It takes 500 years (or, maybe more accurately, forever) for Styrofoam to decompose in a landfill.

And since 1992, the EPA and the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services have warned about potential health hazards from exposure to Styrene, the main chemical component of Styrofoam. And non-recyclable plastic-lined cups appear to harm the environment even more when greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste generation, energy use and water use are considered.

Jacobs brought me a few InCycle cups to take for a spin, and I have been impressed. They are lighter and thinner than Styrofoam and impossibly sturdy. Unlike Styrofoam, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t break the InCycle cup by poking or squeezing it.

The coolest thing about InCycle cups is that someday I may encounter a born-again cup. And I can sip a hot or cold beverage from it knowing that it was saved through recycling to be born again.

For BMod, I’m Terry Gardner.

First Image: MicroGreen

Second Image: Alaska Airlines. InCycle hot cup – Alaska was the first airline to use InCycle cups.

Third Image: United Airlines. 10 oz. hot cup for crew; passengers receive an 8 oz. cup.

Cover Art: Recycling bins at nex, Singapore” by ProjectManhattan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Terry Gardner

Author: Terry Gardner

Based in Santa Monica, CA, Terry Gardner is a freelance journalist whose passion for travel, scuba diving and the environment led to a career as a travel journalist. She blogs for various websites, including the Los Angeles Times Travel & Deal blog and Huffington Post. Terry's website is Her Twitter and Facebook handles are terrytravels1.

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