Changemaker Challenge Cup Club safia dopper

The Story of Safia Qureshi

Find out how award-winning architect and innovation designer Safia Qureshi came up with CupClub™, a reusable coffee cup service that makes it easy to do the right thing.


Innovation inspired by waste-free chai

“Inspiration can come from anywhere. We drew from amazing circular principles exhibited in post-colonial India and applied those principles here, in London. Chai in certain parts of India is sold without a waste stream in ubiquitous glass cups that are reused and rewashed. Which is in stark contrast with what we’re doing here: having coffees and teas in 14 million disposable cups each day, with a tiny 1% being successfully recycled. For CupClub™, our returnable packaging service designed to hold both hot and cold drinks, we used a business model inspired by chai wallahs – tea makers and sellers in India. A customer can join the club to pick up a reusable cup when they buy their coffee or tea and return it later to one of several collection points. We then collect and clean them for reuse in an eco-friendly way.”


The making of a circular coffee cup

“We made a conscious decision to create the CupClub™ containers from universal, mono-materials that can be recycled by anyone globally. The cups, which use only half of the carbon emissions of disposables and ceramics, are made from polypropylene and the lids are made from low-density polyethylene. It was really important that we design products that are recyclable at their end of life because there’s no infrastructure in place for recycling bamboo. There’s no wide infrastructure to recycle bioplastics, either; it all just get incinerated. So it’s about taking a journey with industry. In year one in London, CupClub™’s capacity is six million drinks and each cup can be reused 132 times. With our service, we can help reduce single-use plastic packaging by up to 47%.”


The power of design to change the world

“I’m very passionate about putting an end to products that are only used one time. And recycling is not going to save us, either. That should be something we turn to only after we’ve looked at other ways to prevent waste and reduce consumerism. Recycling sets up a negative business model for us moving forward: we’ll continue manufacturing single-use goods because we’ll recycle them. That’s not fixing a problem, it’s perpetuating it. But I believe 100% that design can change the world and improve behaviours because, ultimately, it’s not the consumer that is going to make a decision: it’s the brand. So it’s our responsibility to ensure that products have an end-of-life value or function. We need to think about the materials and the afterlife.”
Are you a higher vocational or university student graduating on the topic of plastic waste or clean water? Sign up for the Dopper Changemaker Challenge by 12 April! You could win a research grant to boost your graduation project, introductions to an established business network and promo support for your plastic-free or crystal-clear water idea!


More about changemaker Safia

Safia Qureshi is an award-winning architect, innovation designer and educator. Born in London, UK, she launched Studio [D] Tale in 2015 to build projects with high social and environmental impact. She then incubated and launched CupClub™ – returnable packaging service for drinks in 2016. Safia’s work is recognised for its innovative use of design, digital exploration, and spatial interventions that challenge conventional notions of cities and the built environment. She has earned awards, including Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize for CupClub™. You can follow Safia on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.