3D Printed Compostable Clay Cup Startup Bags $6.5M in Seed Round

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Berlin-based startup GaeaStar has found a solution to single-use plastics. Using a “drink to dust” technology, the business 3D prints clay containers that don’t require recycling. Inspired by 5,000-year-old Indian clay cups known as “kuhlars,” its zero-waste product is made of three simple ingredients, clay, water, and salt, so they can disintegrate into dust upon disposal, leaving zero harmful waste. This innovative alternative to petro-plastics is getting noticed, generating over one million unit orders in the last year.

Now GaeaStar announced it has raised $6.5M in seed funding to bring its technology and zero-waste clay cups to the United States. To that end, the startup has teamed up with specialty coffee brand Verve Coffee Roasters to roll out their beverages in GaeaStar cups later this year. In addition and as part of its expansion strategy, the startup plans to open its first micro-factory in San Francisco.

Led by investors at Morningside Technology Ventures, at.inc/, and Dart Labs Ventures, with participation from VSC Ventures, Sand Hill Angels, Climate Capital Venture, and a group of angel investors, the funding round will help GaeaStar meet its eco-friendly product demands in the U.S. and reduce the environmental footprint of plastics which generates millions of tons of waste every year.

GaeaStar’s clay cups come in three different sizes and can be customized. Image courtesy of GaeaStar.

Focused on transforming the market for plastic alternatives, the startup’s “drink to dust” technology uses high-speed additive manufacturing (AM) to create geoneutral cups and bowls. Unlike plastic containers, they can be discarded normally or smashed on the ground, turning to dust and rendering recycling obsolete.

Usable for hot and cold beverages, GaeaStar’s low-cost, eggshell-thin clay vessels combine “a fine China user experience with the convenience of guilt-free disposability,” explains startup founder Sanjeev Mankotia. Because these vessels are made of materials from the Earth, they can be disposed of in the regular waste, and they will disintegrate back to their natural form, which is essentially dirt.

The idea for the product was born during a trip Mankotia took to India. In a blog post, Mankotia explains how he witnessed a family member purchase tea served in a clay cup.

“When she was done, she threw this cup on the ground and carried on her way. At first, I was appalled that she was littering, but upon further education about these cups, I learned she was simply taking materials from the Earth and putting them back into the Earth,” explains Mankotia.

These traditional handleless pottery cups, or kuhlars (कुल्हड़), are typically unpainted and unglazed, as they are meant to be disposable. In India, kulhars are made in a type of oven called a kiln and are inherently sterile and hygienic. Instead, Mankotia and his team realized that by using AM, they could manufacture the cups at scale and with the dimensions they needed.

Visitors can try the ClayCup in Rosa Canina at Markthalle Neun in Berlin. Image courtesy of GaeaStar.

Although the brand is already planning its upcoming expansion in the U.S., visitors to Berlin’s Markthalle Neun – an indoor market with international food vendors and shops – can try GaeaStar’s products. At the local Rosa Canina organic ice cream chain, visitors can eat their ice creams in clay cups for an additional 30 to 50 cents. They come in three different sizes in terracotta color and have been branded as well. Other locations include Bizzi Ice in Frankfurt, EISweiler in Bad Neuenahr, and Berlin Cuisine catering.

GaeaStar’s ClayCup in Rosa Canina at Markthalle Neun in Berlin is being disposed and will be easily composted. Image courtesy of GaeaStar.

Under the slogan “engineering for nature,” GaeaStar’s mission is to enhance the experience of single-use products by providing a clean conscience and a high-end product feel at a lower overall cost to society. Additionally, the startup aims to inspire more companies to follow suit and create environmentally conscious alternatives.

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