Safia Qureshi, founder and CEO of Cupclub, was working as an architect in London when one day, sat on a train, she had one of those light bulb moments, after seeing five men drinking coffee.
They all got off to find the nearest bin and it made her think how it would be possible to develop a product to replace the thousands of coffee cups used every minute with something that wouldn’t end up in landfill or polluting our seas.
Safia started researching any systems already in place that let people borrow a coffee cup and drop it off when they were finished with it.
And so Cupclub was born. The idea is simple; consumers sign up and are allocated a digital ID, which is taken whenever they buy drinks – a bit like a supermarket loyalty card.
They are given a reusable cup and when they’ve finished with it, they can drop the cup off at a collection point from where it’s taken to the Cupclub hub, washed, packed and sent back to a coffee shop.
Safia presented her innovative idea to help solve the plastic crisis in our seas at the Volvo Ocean Race Ocean Summit in Hong Kong.
She said: “Over 40 billion single-use cups are wasted in the US and Europe alone every year. I sketched out the idea, built the team and we did a lot of research during which we found out facts such as paper cups were the fifth most polluting item in cities.
“From a consumer's perspective it had to be really easy to use and convenient to a point that it was almost not different to how they were already using cups.
“It’s price neutral for retailers because we don’t charge them any more than they were paying for the previous non-recyclable packaging.“
Safia used her time in Hong Kong to meet with some of the region's biggest coffee retailers to explore exporting the model to Asia.
Last year, Cupclub was recognised with an Ellen MacArthur Circular Design Challenge award.
Safia added: “We hope that in 12-18 months Hong Kong as a global financial hub will be involved as single-use plastics, as well as affecting the oceans, it also relates to the health of the economy.
“Being involved with the Ocean Summits offers the opportunity to convey the message to the relevant people that we need to prevent products, such as coffee cups, from ever entering our seas."
For all of the latest news on the Volvo Ocean Race Sustainability Programme, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter by clicking here