Decoding Design

Collapsible cup minimizes to-go coffee guilt

Posting in Design

The Zip Cup does the job of a travel mug while soaking up much less real estate in your bag.

Many of us have great intentions to bring our reusable mugs to coffee shops in order to avoid consuming a paper, disposable cup. But how many of us actually travel with that travel mug? I'm shamefully guilty of practically never using mine.

So was Karla Zens, a green real estate professional who has started up a new venture to sell a collapsible coffee mug called Zip Cup. The vessel, which has a patent ending, is comprised of three sections that lock into place when extended, to create a cup, and then collapse into each other when closed. The hope is that thanks to the small profile and big mobility of the cup, compared to rigid reusable coffee mugs, it will attract buyers.

Zens teamed up with Steven Friedman, a mechanical engineer who has worked with frog design and Lathrop Engineering, to design and develop the mug.

The mug holds 16 ounces, which makes it competitive with the paper coffee cups, and it collapses down to the size, roughly, of a pair of socks. The locking mechanisms won't leak -- that's the claim, in any case. With research showing that bisphenol-A (BPA), a plastic hardening chemical, can leach and cause harm to human reproductive or nervous systems, Zens wisely chose BPA-free plastic to create the cup. The cup is dishwasher safe and the individual, locking parts can be completely disassembled, for cleaning.

Many coffee shops offer small discounts -- a dime or so -- for consumers who bring their own mugs. Zens says that this can help offset the mug's $20 price tag. But that's a lot of coffee.

Zens has launched an Indiegogo campaign to drum up enough money to produce the Zip Cup. Thus far, the campaign is only at around 10 percent of its $70,000 goal. Zens admits that her goal is a steep one, but says 85 percent of that funding will go toward factory tooling. "Because of the locking and sealing functionality inside Zip Cup, it requires much more sophisticated tools than a basic cup form. Once the tools are produced, I will be at scale and producing Zip Cup in bulk. My initial goal allows me to create the tools, and fund an initial run of 5,000 Zip Cups."

Images: Zip Cup

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure