A reusable, compostable coffee sleeve is one company’s first foray into designing a zero-waste future.
Invention company Design by Freedom (DBF) seeks to create that future by rethinking how we create, use and dispose of everyday items—then redesigning them in a more sustainable way. “We take on big, systemic, wicked problems while also making sustainability fun,” the company website says. “Our solutions are aesthetically stellar, multi-functional, engaging, fun, sustainable, and most importantly zero waste.”
The smallest changes can have the biggest impact.
As small and inconsequential as those little cardboard coffee sleeves may appear, they have a pretty big footprint when you add them all up on a national scale.
Cardboard sleeves comprise a $500 million (and growing) industry in the United States, with brands investing $25 per customer, per year on the items. And every day in this country, 40 million coffee sleeves are thrown into trashcans. If all those sleeves were laid end to end, they would encircle the Earth five times. In pounds, 40 million coffee sleeves add up to 2.8 billion pounds of paper and cardboard waste every year, weighing more than 3,000 Boeing 747s.
DBF thinks these are crazy and totally unnecessary numbers. So the company is working to dial all of them down to zero. The Freedom Sleeve is reusable and compostable. The Freedom Sleeve is made of bio-based materials that will last up to a year before beginning to decompose. In addition to functioning as a coffee sleeve, DBF says the product (which clips together into a loop around the coffee cup) can also serve as a keychain, bag tag, or laptop wire tie.
After about a year, the Freedom Sleeve can be composted in a bin or fed directly to plants.
To raise funds for the sleeve, DBF has started an Indiegogo campaign running through July 21. As of this writing, the company had raised $4,061 of its $50,000 goal.
First cup sleeves, then cups.
DBF’s long-arc plan involves pushing all 300 million Americans toward a zero-waste future, starting by doing away with the 14 billion coffee sleeves entering waste streams annually.
“The purpose of the Indiegogo campaign is to introduce a zero-waste vision. It isn’t just an investment in a cup of coffee, it’s an investment in a zero-waste future,” DBF’s founder, Anukampa Freedom Gupta-Fonner, told Sustainable Brands. “[We’re] trying to push forward, to propel the idea that zero waste is fun, zero waste is possible, and zero waste is not as inconvenient as you might think.”
But why not just encourage people to use reusable cups? Gupta-Fonner conceded to Sustainable Brands that this is exactly the end goal.
“Our market is an individual who loves coffee, but is not yet ready to carry a coffee cup. That’s the person we’re targeting with the sleeve and offering them a really mobile, impossible-to-forget solution that they can always keep with them. The intention here is to push this customer type to the next level, which is to carry their own coffee cup.”
She tells Sustainable Brands that within two to three years, her little startup will begin launching a new solution-based product every month, starting with coffee cups.
“The cup is next for us,” she tells Sustainable Brands. “We have some really interesting ideas on how to make a cup that is compostable in your own backyard. We don’t want to use wax or paper—we want to do something completely different. As an invention company, we’re always thinking about what can be done, what is being thrown away and where the next opportunity lies to take things to the next level."
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