This ergonomic paper cup was designed to reduce plastic waste generated by to-go coffees!

Most of us have abandoned plastic straws but the next big culprit of our to-go coffees are the plastic lids! About 8.25 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year and these take a million years to decompose causing significant damage to the oceans and marine life. Not-so-fun fact: New York City alone generates enough plastic lid waste to cover the entire earth THREE times. To solve this issue and keep coffee from spilling on your clothes, Unocup designed an ergonomic paper cup that folds into itself to create a spill-proof lid!

Just fold over each flap and insert the tab to close the “lid”. To open, it is a simple press of a button that will gently open the flap instead of trying to carefully pop off the lid – praying for you if you attempt that with long nails. This cup has a unique shape that fits into your palm, the uniform structure creates a strong and consistent body that will not cave under pressure, unlike traditional paper cups. The drinking curved spout is specifically designed to fit your lips naturally as opposed to the otherwise flat plastic lids. You can also fold flaps backward and drink from the rim just like a normal drinking glass. The first prototype was developed in 2015 and it has been refined 800 times since then to create the perfect final version that is as strong as your coffee. Unocup has been optimized for mass-production using existing cup-making machinery which will yield significant cost and energy savings in manufacturing, storage, and transportation while not requiring new machinery or investment.

One of the co-founders and designers of Unocup, Tom Chan, was just a sophomore when he came up with the original concept – a single unit with an origami-like lid that you fold into place to seal liquid inside, eliminating the need for single-use plastic lids. After countless coffee-shop interviews and more than hundreds of prototypes later, he and long-time friend Kaanur Papo founded Unocup, in 2019. It is a 100% plastic-free, compostable beverage cup that replaces the traditional lid with paper folds that seal the drink tightly. “When people think of sustainable solutions they think of certain compromises that have to be made. What’s really exciting about this is that it’s a sustainable and practical solution at the same time,” says Papo. It helps coffee drinkers want a cup that they feel will contribute to waste reduction, while still keeping the convenience factor. Unocup has recently won Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award in the Packaging Category!

Designer: Tom Chan and Kaanur Papo