Co.Design

Startup Radically Reinvents The Disposable Coffee Cup, Eliminating Plastic Lids

Called Compleat, the all-paper design has a built-in lid with sipping spout.

I buy many cups of coffee and habitually cringe when reaching for a plastic lid. It’s pretty hypocritical to make a point of avoiding Styrofoam, only to slap a petroleum disc on a paper cup. (And yes, I know that carrying a travel mug would obviate the issue.) Fortunately for me (and my eco karma), a designer named Peter Herman has come up with a greener, all-paper disposable cup that folds closed like a takeout container to form a sipping spout.

Herman spent two years of his spare time—he’s an architect at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm Ellenzweig—and made close to a hundred prototypes in the process of refining the folding design he calls Compleat. The construction is simple: The body and two integrated flaps are composed of a single piece of paper; the body is glued to the circular base. Like similar cups on the market, the paper would be waterproofed, though ideally with cellulose-based plastic, so that it could be composted. Herman partnered with Daren Bascome, of graphic-design firm Proverb, to make use of all three surfaces for branding messages. "Since the average customer has a paper cup in their hands for 16 minutes, the additional surfaces give retailers considerably more opportunity to reach their customers in a meaningful manner," Herman tells Co.Design.

Plus, Herman estimates that Compleat could ultimately save retailers money, since it’s just one piece (instead of the usual two) and can be sourced through a single supplier. But he adds that figuring out the "hard-cost implication of the cup" will require "direct collaboration with manufacturers, distributors, and retailers." Regardless of the cost benefits, Herman thinks that the iconic shape will perform priceless PR, conveying the retailer’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

The launch date for the cup is still unclear, says Herman, who is in talks with manufacturers and retailers. "There are important variables ranging from the required modifications of existing cup-making machinery to long-term contractual arrangements between manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that will all influence the rollout timetable." Let’s hope that he sorts it all out soon. Compleat is the type of overhaul to an everyday product that could have a huge impact.

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120 Comments

  • Lane Arndt

    yes, how about that reusable tumbler then?
    Starbucks customers alone contribute 1,000,000,000 waste cups per year, and that is a verrrrrrrry modest estimate!
    do your part sugar, it's no more cool to drink out of a waste cup than it is to carry around a soiled diaper!

  • brucericards

    just make sure that it is easy to sip on because i have spilled many a time trying to find that tiny little slot in the plastic ones. good luck hope you make a million

  • Willar

    He is looking too narrow... just coffee? This can be made in large sizes for soda and eliminate both the lid and the straw!! McDonalds here we come! Can you imagine the savings of not purchasing or handling the lids and straws for McD's? Looks like a no-brainer to me. The biggest hoop to jump through might be the dispenser equipment modifications. With no lip in the edge of the cup the dispensing sleeves will have a hard time dispensing one at a time. Otherwise, very smart!

  • Les McNamara

    I don't think this cup is any greener than any other disposable cup. The environmental impact of the extra paper might even be worse than for the plastic lid.

  • Laura

    Keep in mind that plastic is not biodegradable, period. There is a mass of plastic soup, greater than the size of Texas, in the North Pacific.

  • Ndnnoyes

    Very interesting. I pick up litter in our community and find it really annoying to try and pick up those plastic lids, though here, i am sure it is from soda more likely, then coffee. Just knowing someone is working on the problems of disposable items makes me very happy. J Noyes

  • Coffecians

    Great design!! I hated some plastic lids/cups due to their bad quality coz retailer wanted to save money. Hope this one will attract all retailers both from quality & price point!

  • Sherrill Smith

    Terrific!  I ALWAYS refuse plastic lids on all of my to-go drinks  -  hot or cold!

  • ME

    Great Idea...think about cold beverages at zoo's and theme parks.
    The St. Louis Zoo doesn't offer/allow lids and straws for animal safety reasons.

  • Fiftytwo

    At Coffeeman we haven't served plastic lids since 1991 and have been waiting for this a longtime .....

  • Arsauvage from Paris, France.

    Super bonne idée!  Et en plus, c'est assez joli, comme forme et comme couleur.  They say it is always the simplest ideas which are the best ones.  Well...Here we are.
    The only slight possible downside: is there anything designed so not to burn your hands when you grab the cup?

  • Russ

    Very cool and clever design!  Reminds me of that origami paper cup you could fold yourself, and even put over a flame without it burning (as long as liquid was inside)... The EarthKare Kup is interesting also, from an environmental and engineering point of view, but Compleat is cooler and clever-er!  Looking forward to seeing if it succeeds out there...

  • Colormuse

    Yay! great design I have always believed that to clean up our environment is to get the manufactures on board with good design alternatives and yes wouldn't it be great if everyone carried a travel mug but they don't so this is a great start....eliminating the plastic is HUGE! good luck selling it to the powers that be I will hold a good thought for you....
    Sue Ann 
    b.artrageous 
    creative arts studio