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Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2018-04-30

Current paper cups solutions have three main problems, what they are made of, how many there are and where they end up. Paper cups are made of papers and theoretically they are technically recyclable, but inside it is a layer of PE plastic which make them waterproof and able to hold the drink. This PE layer means that they cannot be recycled with conventional recycling facilities and have to be taken to specialized centres. This makes that only 1 in 400 is currently recycled, ending the rest in landfills or into the sea. When disposal the cups have the potential to release methane and chemical leaks. All this features together make paper cups a good example of the single-use plastic problem: their life span is only as long as it takes to drink a coffee but it will take hundreds of years to disappear, ending up in landfills and in the oceans, breaking into smaller pieces and causing damage on land an in the sea.
The proposed solution is UCUP, a paper cup coated with a bio-based, biodegradable and recyclable waterproof coating as an alternative to conventional layers. This layer is based on a cross-linked alginate coating, alginate is a natural polysaccharide which is extracted from brown seaweed. The main objectives are to turn this solution into an alternative to current paper cups, making them biodegradable and sustainable and reducing the plastic waste generated by the current PE layer of the cups.
During the project a number of tasks have been carried out in order to ensure the technical and commercial viability of UCUP. The first task has been a market analysis to locate potential users and discover, with direct interviews, their unmet needs and how UCUP can help the clients to solve them. Another task has been the analysis and creation of a business model and a financial plan in order to commercialize the results of the project. Also an IPR and Legal Framework analysis have been fulfilled in order to meet the requirements and protect the intellectual property generated by the project.
Finally, it is foreseen during Phase 2 to carry out a product optimisation in order to identify the gaps required to start with the testing and semi-industrial production of UCUP. Within this process a more specific IPR & Regulations analysis will be carried out, adapting the conclusions to the product. The final objective of this is to exploit the developed product developing and scalable and repeatable sales model and revenue plan and disseminate it promoting the project and its findings during the period of the grant, engaging potential buyers and stakeholders.
The manufacture of recyclable, compostable and/or reusable paper cups made of environmentally friendly materials has evolved a lot in recent years, but there are major drawbacks in the processing of these items after their end-life use. The solution offers an improve in these fields thanks to better rates of degradability and compostability compared to other coated paper cups. In addition, it also offers a good barrier to water vapour due the reinforcement provided by the chemical crosslinking, an increase in thermal and mechanical resistance and a higher disintegration rate compared to other bio-based polymers.
The global use of paper cups requires the consumption of one million tonnes of virgin paper a year, paper that is disposed of after one single use and that is very hard to recycle due to their plastic layers. The change of these plastic layers to an alginate based layer simplifies the recycling process and also make the paper cups biodegradable, increasing the recycling rates of the cups and reducing the number of cups that end its life span in landfills and making them less problematic for the environment.