The red plastic cup has become synonymous with good times, popping up at picnics, parties, and tailgates all over the country. But single-use plastics are coming under scrutiny for their negative impact on the environment.
Team Zero, composed of four TCNJ seniors, is on a mission to bring to market a comparable, but compostable version, of the beloved beverage receptacle. As the winners of this year’s annual Mayo Business Plan Competition, the team is well on their way thanks to the $30,000 grand prize.
Their winning plan is to create the first renewable, naturally biodegradable, and home-compostable alternative to single-use cups, created from a most unsuspecting ingredient — chitin, a fibrous substance derived from seafood waste like crab and shrimp shells.
Their product’s name, χ-Cups (pronounced “kai-cups”) takes inspiration from the Greek letter, chi, and their cup’s primary ingredient, chitosan, which is made of chitin.
“I thought of all of the plastic cups that are thrown away from celebrations, restaurants, and gatherings,” says Axel Delakowski, a biomedical engineering major, of his inspiration for the new product. “There had to be a more sustainable way around the piles of plastic cups.”
After ordering the chitosan from an online supplier, the team got to work creating a prototype for the competition.
“After a month of developing a familiarity with the material, we were finally able to make a cup but we weren’t quite happy with how it looked,” says chemistry major Jay Lim, who casted the initial prototype at his mom’s kitchen table. “However, with countless trials and errors, we were able to refine it and present a prototype we were proud of to the judges.”
The team is investigating two methods of mass production, says Lim: thermoforming and injection molding, with an initial R&D focus on the latter.
“If all goes well, a high-efficiency, industry-scale injection molder will be used to produce our cups,” he says.
Team Zero aims to market the χ-Cups to college students and environmentally conscious distributors, and plan to take their product to the next level after they graduate in May.
“The diverse backgrounds of our team provided a lot of collective knowledge that we’ve been able to put together from a variety of classes at TCNJ,” says Joaquin Garcia, a marketing major. “We all know our roles within our team and are all well-versed within those roles because of the knowledge that our classes have provided us.”
— Julia Meehan ’22 and Emily W. Dodd ’03