Let's "cup2gether" - circular cup initiative to foster climate protection and sharing economy
Organisation : Cup2gether , Germany

In our city Frankfurt, we have to face 25 million single use cups per year becoming waste. There are some highly committed people bringing own cups or avoiding coffee-to-go, but most of us got used to mobile consumption - we don't want to change culture by prohibition, we want to establish a culture which desires for sustainable solutions. So we started an initiative called "cup2gether" that activated local ambassadors for a circular cup system with a regional produced cup (made of leavings from paper industry, natural resources). We started as official "90-days-challenge" against municipality. Now we established the citywide system.

Agendas addressed
Climate changeLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
community final

Frankfurt is a big city, famous for financial and economic power. When it comes to sustainable development, we have to face politicians and companies talking about "green city" meaning planting trees (which is important, too). Here, it is very difficult to pilot social innovations without a guaranty or economic benefit. We are totally capitalized and have a three parties government which makes decisions and budget discussions even worse.

Our "Green City" strategy and the "Masterplan Climate Protection" only address environmental issues with programs for pupils, big companies or energy topics. It seems to avoid a holistic approach using the needs of citizens and local companies in the districts of our city to co-create solutions because that bears the possibility to fail and is (for them) too small-scaled. Furthermore our city benefits from burning waste, a system change to avoid or reduce waste wasn't a serious part of strategies. Example

In Action
arts supports circular cup system

We knew that the heads of economic and environmental departments didn't want to establish a circular cup system to avoid waste and they didn't believe in the citizens' and cafés' will to be part of a "good movement". So we used three approaches to reach our goal: the common circular cup system.

1.We used participation and community development to strengthen identification and desire for a the system: People and cafés could decide about design, we trained them as ambassadors with knowledge about waste, its impact on climate change and environmental issues, about plastics and regional production of the cup we used, we organized meet-ups and used social media to create a good mood.

2.We set up a "90-days-challenge" against the two politicians in two districts with the goal to activate 20 cafés, 150 users and 100 volunteer ambassadors to officially test a system afterwards and evaluate how it worked. After 45 days we could start with more participants than we thought, so we began the circular cup system pilot phase, with more that 500 testing people after 100 more days (now more than 1.000), more than 40 cafés and 158 volunteers.

3. We activated the local politicians from the districts, so that more that 20 district councils requested the municipality to establish the system.

In the meantime we continued after the testing phase with small campaigns at the university, started to build a rent-a-cup-add-on for schools, associations and other initiatives which want to avoid one way and plastics, but can't and don't want to afford an own cup storage. They also became kind of ambassadors. After more than one year, our strong political and community actions succeeded: the local waste disposer had to take over the circular cup system with the biodegradable, reusable cups.

There were some additional points for the initiative to become a transformative action:

1. We did a lot PR and campaigning so that even other municipalities from our region are waiting for us to scale the local to a regional system.

2. The whole time we got involved in local educational projects, helped others with our knowledge and strengthened the network of citizens and companies that wanted to avoid plastic.

3. We learned from another municipality concerning the administrative part (contracts and so on), used perfect digital tools to facilitate our work and exchanged with others to help them starting their own challenges in their cities.

group of ambassadors walking as cup

„Der Weg zu einem sauberen und möglichst plastikarmen Frankfurt kann nicht nur durch die Stadt alleine beschritten werden. Wir brauchen dazu die Unterstützung vieler Menschen, und die Einführung eines stadtweiten Pfandsystem ist etwas, das bereits von vielen Menschen gewünscht und sicherlich breit akzeptiert wird“, ist sich Heilig sicher. „Mit der Etablierung von Mehrweg-Pfandsystemen beschreiten wir bei FES ein Stück weit Neuland“, sagt Benjamin Scheffler, Geschäftsführer der FES. „Wir werden den Becher für die Stadt zu einer Erfolgsgeschichte machen.“ (april 2019) Here the head of environmental department and the CEO of the local waste disposer talk about the innovation of adapting a community driven system. After more than one year, our strong political and community actions succeeded: they had to take over the circular cup system with the biodegradable, reusable cups.

Besides, for us the key achievements are:

  • strong political support from 20 district councils from all parties
  • a system change throught the power of 158 volunteers, more than 1000 users and now, more than 60 cafés
  • helping other charity organizations to switch to a biodegradable reusable cup instead of plastic because they reach so many different target groups that are not typically "eco"
  • seeing so many companies that wanted to adapt the system for their canteens
  • strengthening an initiative that becomes pioneer for other municipalities
  • starting an innovative test in two districts becoming a citywide system

more clippings with results



On the qualitative side we see civic society as most impactful actor to foster a cultural change towards sustainability. So not only the 158 ambassadors, also more than 1000 users that drink their coffee out of a very eye-catching reusable cup lead to more consciousness of other to-go-customers who see this change of behavoiur.

They help the transformation from being "cool" when you drink your coffee while walking to being "uncool" when you do that with a one way cup. On the other hand it strengthens the believe of citizens that they really can change something, it is like a motivation that even the small steps lead to a system change when many people participate.

Looking at the quantitative side, we have

  • 25 million one way cups in Frankfurt per year and 2,8 milliards in Germany
  • for them, 43000 trees are cut down and
  • 22000 tons of oil have to be delivered and
  • 111000 tons of carbon dioxide endanger our climate goals.

If you transfer these numbers on the impact we want to have in Frankfurt, we think that even if we only halfen the use of one way cups, we have a great impact on the climate goals because we help that a climate friendly behaviour becomes lifestyle and furthermore, we should not forget biodiversity: the biodegradable cup was developed with scientists so it is the only product we know that is made out of wooden waste of paper industry while other bioplastics or bamboo lead to monocultures or intransparent supply chains which both aren't sustainable.

We foster innovative bio materials and a transformation of municipality or better local waste disposers because now the get the chance to learn how to deal with circular systems instead of burning everything. That is what leads to sharing and circular economy.

Challenges and lessons learned
Germany compared to the


  • be brave and just ask for what you want, even if it is the mayor or politicians that you need for your action, if you ask as a human being without any prejudices they help
  • strengthen networks in different fields, e.g. even if you are disappointed from "economy", ask them if they want to join your idea and see yourselve on equal eye level - which also means don't act as if "economy" or "politics" are bad, we all are humans with fears and wishes
  • our main challenge was to finance our work because we couldn't do everything unpaid


newspaper report
briefing for ambassadors


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