Paper-based lids completely eliminate the plastic lid concept. Instead, the lids are made of the same paper material as the cups. This allows for easier and more efficient recycling as well as accounts for the instances where the lids are not recycled and are just disposed of. By utilizing existing technologies and manufacturing processes from the paper cup and container industry, it will accelerate implementation and reduce technological risk. Lastly, it maintains the same cups and user experience, which will encourage instant industry and consumer acceptance and enable more wide-spread adoption.
Two design concepts are proposed, both of which can be extended to hot (coffee) and cold (fountain) cup applications. Perforated straw holes (circular or cross-shaped) can be included for fountain drink applications, and sip holes can be created for hot beverage applications (or to eliminate the need for a straw while still preventing spilling when sloshing).
Concept 1: Nesting paper lids based on the bottom of a paper cup
Tapered seals are commonly used in several industries to create water-tight seals without the need for special gaskets while allowing for some variation in fit. The concept here involves creating a lid that fits inside of the cup near the lip and has a taper that matches that of the cup in order to create a water-tight seal. The lid can feature a rolled lip as found in paper cups for structural stability and for a familiar sipping experience; the lip also allows for easier lid removal (as a grip) for refills and can potentially be used to ensure proper fitment of the lid (alignment with cup lip), depending on the final lid geometry. Although shown towards the bottom of the lid, the planar surface of the lid can be placed at any vertical position, which will be determined during further development.
Concept 2: Paper lids based on existing paper soup cup lids
Paper lids are currently produced for take-away soup containers. These lids are typically double walled for additional insulation. The idea for this concept is to create a single-walled paper lid that utilizes less material and can function as a lid for fountain drinks or hot beverages. Alternatively, a premium double-walled lid version could be created for hot beverages.
The similarities in form of the proposed paper lids to standard paper cups present an opportunity to partner with a paper cup manufacturer and leverage current paper cup manufacturing processes. Utilizing existing tooling, production equipment, and materials will allow for a substantial initial production volume as well as reduced development costs. With both paper lids and cups being made of the same material, this eliminates a waste sorting issue by allowing consumers to dispose both cup and lids in one receptacle. This demonstrates potential for a decrease in plastic waste leakage and an increase in paper recycling, which could then be used for the manufacture of new paper cups and lids.
We intend to perform user testing to identify potential design and usability issues/concerns and areas for improvement. Then, we would work with a manufacturing partner in order to roll out the new lids and evaluate their use, performance, disposal, and consumer response in a controlled, realistic setting. We plan to initially implement this concept as a pilot program on the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Mayagüez campus and then other UPR campuses. Upon testing and obtaining user feedback for further product refinement, we plan to partner with one or more major coffee and/or fast food franchises in order to determine an appropriate region for initial commercial implementation before scaling to the national level (United States). This way, the model can have proof of concept at a community level and regional level before expanding to the national and global markets.
We chose to address Puerto Rico as our region for several reasons. First and foremost, our company, Isla Innovations, has roots in Puerto Rico. As an island, we have limited resources, and the environmental impact of our linear economy is more apparent and its implications are more imminent than in the Continental United States, where more space is available for waste, and raw materials and products can be trucked in (and waste trucked out) overnight. According to the EPA (Solid Waste in Puerto Rico, 2010), “Puerto Rico residents generate more waste than people living on the mainland, and recycling rates in the Commonwealth are lower. Much of Puerto Rico's solid waste ends up in one of island's 32 landfills, most of which do not comply with Commonwealth and federal landfill requirements.” Puerto Rico relies solely on municipality-controlled landfills for waste disposal, and with over 4 million tons of solid waste generated per year, waste has a significant impact on our economy, our environment, and our lives. In fact, in by 2020, it is expected that there will only be 4 landfills in operation (compared to 32 in 2010). In addition, low landfill tipping fees encourage irresponsible recycling and waste disposal habits, and the lack of appropriate funding streams for waste management infrastructure add to our long-term concerns. With a recycling rate of only 10% (in 2007), our waste management system is dire. (Autoridad de Desperdicious Solidos, Solid Waste Management in Puerto Rico: Realities, Facts and Figures, Feb. 2010).
With such a low participation rate in recycling, the design of products and services must be inherently sustainable until policy and system solutions can be developed to nudge people to adopt more sustainable habits. This is already happening in Cabo Rojo, where the Orange Initiative (Iniciativa Naranja) has been implemented to financially incentivize recycling. While the policies are developed across the island for better recycling habits, the products and services that people use need to also be redesigned around the ideas of a closed-loop system and zero-waste. It is for these reasons that developing more sustainable goods, such as this paper-based cup lid, will help contribute to Puerto Rico's adoption of circular economy principles.
Proof of concept testing has been performed using take-away cups from various vendors to demonstrate the function of the seal, and an initial prototype is planned. Testing showed excellent sealing with a minimal amount of lid-to-cup surface contact (approximately 1/4" depth). It should be noted that depending on the cup, a very small void may be created from the overlap of the paper due to the way paper cups are constructed; this can create a very small amount of leakage (slow drip, significantly less then through a straw hole). However, this may be addressed by a number of ways, including adding additional coating material to essentially "chamfer" the edge, tapering the paper before gluing to eliminate the overlap, or lining up the overlaps of the cup and the lid (with the help of visual indicators) to close any gap. These provisions will likely only be required for the sipping configuration, as straw lids are not currently 100% leak-free.