Decoding Design

Startup redefines the to-go coffee cup

Posting in Design

Meet "Compleat," a to-go cup that eliminates the plastic lid.

There are many aspects of the "to-go" coffee culture that aren't exactly environmentally friendly, or even conscious. To go cups in general generate massive waste-- it was estimated that in America alone over 20 billion paper cups were used last year.

One of the most environmentally frustrating aspects of the cups though, are the plastic lids, also in the billions, that are a major contributor to the world's plastic pollution.

Simply put, you can do your part by bringing your own mug or by making your own coffee, but for those less espresso-inclined and constantly on the go, a start-up has created a to-go cup sans plastic lid.

Peter Herman, whose day job is an architect at the Ellenzweig firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, spent two years of his free time to construct a cup that he calls "Compleat."

The all-paper, disposable cup  folds like a takeout container to form a sipping spout. The cup is made of just one piece of (waterproofed) paper glued to a round base. Herman said that ideally the waterproofing would be done with cellulose-based plastic so that the cups would be compostable.

Herman estimated that Complete would also eventually save retailers money since the cup is only one part and can be sourced through one supplier, also giving them incentive to use the cups. However, Herman admitted to Co.Design that figuring out the actual cost benefits would require direct collaboration with both retailers and manufacturers.

Herman thinks that shape alone of Complete is iconic enough to perform "priceless PR," that would tell consumers that a retailer was committed to do their part in reducing plastic waste.

It is still unclear when Compleat will be available, though Herman said he is in negotiations with producers, distributors and retailers. A complete redesign of a paper cup doesn't solve the problem of to-go cup waste, but it does show that there are ways to subtly tweak the current model that could potentially have a big impact.

[Co. Design]
Images: Compleat

Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure