‘Drink to dust’: Startup says just smash its clay alternative to plastic cups


Gaestar's disposable clay cups, smashed in a pile.
Image Credits: Gaestar

Disposable plastic and paper cups are an environmental mess. GaeaStar, a startup based in Berlin and San Francisco, thinks it can do better with just clay, water, salt and sand.

After piloting disposable clay cups and bowls in Germany, GaeaStar says it is gearing up to introduce its products to the U.S. via a trial with Verve (the California coffee chain, not the band).

To make the disposable containers, the startup says it developed a special 3D-printer that churns them out in “30 seconds or less.” The company declined to share photos of the printer, which it described as patent pending. There’s nothing new about clay, and in a statement, GaeaStar acknowledged as much, saying it was “inspired by ancient Indian culture.”

To fund its Verve pilot and future collaborations in the U.S., GaeaStar rolled together a $6.5 million seed round from investors such as Morningside and Dart Labs.

Through an environmental lens, the U.S.’s single-use cup problem shares some commonalities with its single-occupancy vehicle problem. In each case, a relatively new, inefficient behavior now seems totally ingrained in society. Whether you’re talking about transporting iced lattes in plastic cups or people in metal eggs, there are better ways of moving such things around, if only folks would behave differently. But will people change, and do they want to?

This is a silly thought experiment, but there’s something interesting about where it falls apart: Replacing a ton of cars with public transit requires, like, real work — including vast infrastructure development and rethinking where and how many of us live. On the other hand, killing disposable cups demands that folks tote around reusable canteens. This sounds . . . comparably pretty easy.

Yet, change is hard at any scale, and so we look for alternatives. We electrify single-occupancy vehicles and build ostensibly better disposable cups, striving to mitigate the damage we do without really changing much about how we live. Some people consider such compromises a distraction, but in the case of disposable cups, GaeaStar founder Sanjeev Mankotia calls this meeting people “where they are.”

“It’s the reality of Western culture that people are constantly on the go and are now accustomed to disposability vs. carrying around a reusable mug,” Mankotia told TechCrunch over email. “We know recycling doesn’t work and our vessels can go right in the trash guilt-free.” When Mankotia says “recycling doesn’t work,” the CEO is referencing how most plastic is never recycled.

GaeaStar hasn’t paid for a complete life-cycle analysis of the environmental cost of its clay cups, but the company says it plans use its new funds to do so in 2023. Mankotia went on to tell TechCrunch that its internal analysis and estimates “show us that we’re using significantly less water and energy when compared to paper or plastic incumbents.”

Gaeastar founder and CEO Sanjeev Mankotia
GaeaStar founder Sanjeev Mankotia. Image Credits: Gaeastar

GaeaStar also aims to establish cup-printing centers near its customers and source clay locally. Calling this a micro-factory model, GaeaStar said in Germany it even delivers vessels using e-bikes. One day, the startup aims to offer a tabletop printer to restaurants so they can “print the cups on demand at the point of sale.”

The startup sent TechCrunch a sample cup etched with a Verve logo and invited me to reuse it as many times as I’d like, and later smash it, or even use it as a pot for a plant. GaeaStar’s cup is thin, and it isn’t sturdy like plastic, but I found that it’s more than capable of housing multiple coffees. Plus, the novelty of a clay disposable in the U.S. makes it kind of fun to use.

GaeaStar’s latest fundraise follows an earlier $1.7 million pre-seed round, the company said. Its other investors in the new round include At Inc., Sand Hill Angels, VSC and Climate Capital.

Gen Phoenix’s upcycled leather woos luxury brand investors

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

15 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

17 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android