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Biodegradable coffee cups being 'grown' in bid to cut down on plastic waste

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 3/17/2019 Telegraph Reporters
A gourd coffee cup in one of the moulds © Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency A gourd coffee cup in one of the moulds

Biodegradable coffee cups are being 'grown' from fruit by an innovative design company in a bid to cut down on plastic waste. 

The reusable cups are made from gourds, a fruit in the pumpkin family, which are grown inside 3D printed moulds to make them the perfect coffee-cup shape when picked.

The fast-growing squashes were used by our ancestors as drinking containers, and thanks to their waxy outer shell, can be dried out and used to hold liquids.

The architecture and design company, Creme, now grow cup and flask-shaped gourds at a farm near New York, USA, but started out by testing the moulds in their studio in Brooklyn, New York.

The Telegraph understands that the cups are in the design phase and not currently for sale, but company has had inquiries from companies in the UK and around the world.

a cup of coffee: In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, but that number is likely to be higher now Credit: Yui Mok/PA © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, but that number is likely to be higher now Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Tania Kaufmann, the company's business manager, said: "The inspiration actually came from how the Japanese grow their watermelons.

"They are grown in moulds into a square shape so they are easily transported and stackable, so we thought we might be able to grow gourds similarly using moulds in the shape of cups and flasks.

a cup of coffee: In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, but that number is likely to be higher now © Yui Mok/PA In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, but that number is likely to be higher now

"Creme identified gourds as a fast-growing plant which bears robust fruits each season, developing a strong outer skin, and fibrous inner flesh.  Once dried, gourds have historically been used by our ancestors as receptacles like cups.

"Creme explored this centuries-old craft, using 3D moulds to grow them into functional shapes, such as cups and flasks to create sustainable, renewable, and compostable products without waste."

a cup of coffee: The Gourd coffee cups Credit: Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited The Gourd coffee cups Credit: Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency

In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, but that number is likely to be higher now.

It is not easy for consumers to recycle their takeaway coffee cups due to the mixture of paper and plastic used in their inner lining, which makes the cup heatproof and leakproof. 

a cup of coffee on a table: The Gourd coffee cups © Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency The Gourd coffee cups

It is thought therefore that the vast majority of cups, more than 99.75 per cent, do not get recycled.  In 2017, a study found that just one in 400 coffee cups are recycled, even if it is thrown into a recycling bin.

There has been a move towards using resuable coffee mugs, which can save consumers money as several outlets have instigated their own incentives.  Pret, for example, will charge you 50p less if you bring a reusable cup.

Last year, the Government began to mull the prospect of a 'latte levy', a 25 tax on disposable coffee cups and in December the Environment Department announced that ministers were set to consult to expand a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans to include disposable coffee cups.

These single-use cups are made from gourds, a fruit in the pumpkin family © Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency These single-use cups are made from gourds, a fruit in the pumpkin family

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said at the time: "Some may argue that these steps put the interests of the environment ahead of economic factors. They couldn't be more wrong.

"You can't have a healthy economy without a sustainable environment to provide the resources we all need. Using resources more wisely improves productivity."

These single-use cups are made from gourds, a fruit in the pumpkin family Credit: Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited These single-use cups are made from gourds, a fruit in the pumpkin family Credit: Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency

The gourd cups have been designed by Creme Design, a collaboration of international designers and creatives, owned by award-winning architect Jun Aizaki.

They take around six weeks to grow, and can hold up to 443ml of water - just short of the 473ml in a medium, or 'grande' sized Starbucks coffee cup.

Ms Kaufmann added: "The company is focusing on creating a sustainable alternative to the single-use plastic cup.  This cup of the future is a completely organic and biodegradable vessel carved from a gourd that can replace the single-use plastic cup.

A gourd coffee cup in one of the moulds - Solent News & Photo Agency © Creme/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent News & Photo Agency A gourd coffee cup in one of the moulds - Solent News & Photo Agency

"Ideally, the entire world will benefit from our product. Single-use plastic cups are not biodegradable and cause a massive amount of waste.

"Most of the 'biodegradable' cups on the market are lined with a chemical to ensure they do not leak, but the chemical is not compostable, therefore the cups are not fully biodegradable."

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