One of the biggest sources of waste produced by coffee shops comes from disposable cups. You can make them recyclable and compostable all you want—both of which are inarguably good things, certainly better than the alternative—but unless folks use them to those ends instead of throwing them in the garbage, there is little to no qualitative difference between them and traditional to-go cups. And now, a Starbucks- and McDonald’s-backed pilot program is kicking off this week in Northern California that will track and redistribute reusable cups.

As reported by Bloomberg, the initiative known as the NextGen Cup Challenge was coordinated by Closed Loop Partners, a recycling-focused private equity firm, and has been two years in the works. Their solution to the cup waste problem is to create reusable plastic cups with unique QR codes or RFID chips, allowing them to be tracked. Once returned, the cups are collected, cleaned, and redistributed to partnering cafes for reuse.

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Per the article, having the ability to track each cup would also potentially allow for the companies to “keep tabs on rates of reuse and attrition” and “identify areas where people are buying drinks but not returning cups, perhaps indicating a need for more collection sites nearby.”

The pilot program will be taking place at “independent coffee shops” in San Francisco and Palo Alto using a different type of “smart cup” in each city. In San Francisco, the QR code-based Muuse cups are scanned when customers pick up and drop off the cups at a participating cafe. In Palo Alto, CupClub uses RFID technology and “bright-yellow drop-off points scattered throughout the city” as a means of making collection less burdensome on the consumer. “Consumers need a product that isn’t going to be so much of a step change,” states Safia Qureshi, creator of CupClub.

To start CupClub will found at the Palo Alto Verve Coffee, Coupa Cafe, and the Stanford campus. Cafes in San Francisco using the Muuse cups have yet to be made public.

If either of the pilot programs prove successful, you could soon see Starbucks or McDonalds integrate a resuable cup system on a much larger scale, massively reducing the billions of cups each company uses every year that potentially end up in a landfill.

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

Top image via CupClub

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