The problem of disposable coffee cup remains, well, a problem. We’ve seen many clever solutions over the years to keeping cups from making their way to landfills—reusables, exchange programs, RFID trackers, cups made of coffee—but they all require a certain level of buy-in from the consumer. A compostable cup is only as effective as the person composting it (or not).
But one company has taken a vastly different approach to the coffee cup problem: 3D print them out of dirt. The brand is called GaeaStar, and their single-use cups are perfectly fine going to the landfill. Because they’re made of dirt.
As reported by CNET, the idea for Germany- and San Francisco-based GaeaStar came to founder and CEO Sanjeeve Mankotia on a vacation to India to visit family. When he stopped at a chaiwallah for a quick drink with his cousin, they were served terracotta to-go cups. When his cousin was done with the beverage, she smashed the cup on the ground. “It’s made out of dirt, why is this an issue,” Mankotia recalls his cousin saying.
And indeed, these terracotta cups known as “kuhlars” have been used in South India for 5,000 years and rarely do they get reused. With GaeaStar, Mankotia is bringing kuhlars into the 21st century, 3D printing them using a mix of dirt, salt, and water. Per the company, the cups can be made using 60% less energy than the process of creating paper or plastic cups, are 10 times stronger than paper cups, and can be made at an equivalent cost, on-demand in about 10 seconds. And then once they have served their purpose, it’s ok if they end up in a landfill because they will turn back to dirt.
Mankotia hopes to one day have 3D printers in coffee shops around the country, where cafes can print cups on demand, even sourcing their own dirt locally. The cups have already had a successful trial run in coffee shops and ice cream parlors in Germany, and later this year, GaeaStar will be coming to America. Per CNET, the brand has partnered with Verve Coffee Roasters and will begin appearing in select California cafes in the near future.
I have to admit, there feels like there’s real promise with the GaeaStar. It requires no additional labor to dispose of properly by those who have no interest in doing so. The sturdier terracotta cup may make for a better drinking experience than a plastic-lined paper cup; Mankotia calls it the “fine china experience with the convenience of disposability.” But perhaps the best part is the celebratory smash and “OPA!” when you’ve just finished drinking your latte. Doesn’t that sound fun! (Disclaimer: neither Sanjeev Mankotia nor GaeaStar suggest leaving broken shards of coffee-covered clay scattered around cafes or city streets. Please dispose of them properly.)