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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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