OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Cuppuccino - temporary reusable coffee cup

Inexpensive reusable and recyclable disposable coffee cup with integrated, hinged lid and sleeve.

Photo of Matt Jones
44 32

Written by


The focus of this design looks to address two of the proposed problem items - coffee cup lids and plastic straws.

People don't respond well to change - at least initially. Give them what they want - but in a way that makes it easier for them to do the right thing. Change will follow.

People value convenience and want their coffee on the go. Without a fundamental change in habits, people will continue to seek out disposable cups. Forgetting their 'cup-for-life' on the wash rack at home, or at their office desk will continue to be the downfall of well-meaning intentions. Breaking the re-use habit before it has a chance to start. The challenge is less to break the need for disposable cups, but to encourage more responsible manufacture of disposable cups.

Integrating the components of our coffee culture into one easily disposable, yet reusable, cup, made from a commonly recyclable plastic achieves numerous goals (providing the design accommodates what the culture has grown to expect).

What does coffee culture expect?

  • The design must have the ability to allow the lid to be opened and closed.
  • The design must allow for people to drink with the lid opened or closed.
  • The design must contain the liquid, preventing it from easily spilling as the consumer walks.
  • The design must prevent the consumer from burning their fingers on the outer walls of the coffee cup.
  • The design ideally allows for a consumer to use a straw.
  • The design must be stackable, allowing for minimal storage overheads.
  • The design must accommodate branding / printed graphics.
  • The design must be reusable (but not necessarily indestructible or require costly materials) - A cup for the day/week - not for life.

From an environmental standpoint, the planet benefits from:

  • A design that is made of a single reusable and recyclable material - ideally, made from recycled materials itself.
  • A design that avoids multiple parts - no small pieces that can be pulled off.
  • A design that is recognisable as recyclable - prompting recycling
  • A design that is recognisable as reusable - prompting reuse
  • A design that people favour over less easily recyclable products - prompting use.

Proposed solution:

The proposed solution is a single reusable and recyclable material plastic cup with integrated sleeve and hinged lid, with a strong grip straw holder. Additionally, straws using the same material allow for the straw to be recycled together with the cup.

The design features:

See attached sketchpad notes [UPDATED].

  • The hinge allows for the lid to be delivered open allowing for the cups to be stacked, keeping storage and shipping costs low.
  • The hinged lid flips over to cover the cup opening and provides a reasonably tight (mechanical) seal - preventing spills.
  • The lid includes a (mechanically) resealable pull tab creating a small opening [spout] from which to drink the contents of the cup.
  • [UPDATED] A centre vent hole shaped as an X serves a dual purpose, allowing the insertion of a straw (made of the same materials) with the points of the X being forced down, it makes the straw hard (but not impossible) to remove the straw. Enabling both the straw (of the same material) and integrated cup design to be recycled as one.
  • The fins enveloping the cups outer walls replace the need for a cardboard sleeve - demonstrating similar but increased effects of preventing the consumer from burning their fingers from touching the exposed walls of the coffee cup when drinking a hot beverage.
  • The design of the fins around the cup can accommodate TWO areas of any desired shape, least likely to be held when drinking from the cup, for (pad printed) branding.
  • The base of the cup is raised in the middle to ensure that most condensation and/or heat of the cup does not transfer to a table / counter top.

It is recommended that this cup design is marketed as a temporary reusable cup, and that coffee shops are encouraged to refund consumers for returning their cups for disposal. This can be in the form of a discount, as with the 'cups-for-life' incentive many shops now employ. Customers can either reuse their cup or have it replaced for a new one. Either way - promoting reuse where possible and recycling where undesirable.

I've named this idea 'Cuppuccino' - a play on the words Cup and Cappuccino.

For the judges:

In response to the evaluation criteria:

Circular economy for plastics: The proposed solution enables the elimination of non-recyclable small-format plastics waste for the category of disposable coffee cups, with the same design principles enabling other multi-material disposable packaging (e.g. See PopLock Crisp Tube Container). The idea aims to reduce complexity in the system by making the whole cup, lid and sleeve integrated and clearly identifiable as recyclable plastic.

  • In the UK alone, 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups end up in landfill every year. 10,000 every 2 minutes. If 1 in every 100 cups were reused only once, that would prevent over 68,000 cups ending up in landfill EVERY day - 25,000,000 per annum. What's more, that cup could be reused longer and when no longer of use, recyclable without any small waste components or mixed-materials.
  • Clearing the confusion of whether a disposable coffee cup is general / mixed waste, paper or plastic should have a demonstrable impact on recycling. The entire unit is completely integrated - cup, lid and sleeve made of a single recyclable (and potentially biodegradable) material, with the ability to hold on tightly to a straw of the same material, aims to eliminate any doubt.
  • Reusable coffee cups are usually an added expense and commitment (no matter how small). Such cups create guilt/irritation when the user forgets their cup. Owning one prevents the user from considering a second purchase - reverting to disposable cups, and breaking a good habit before it has had a chance to form. It can also build into regret for having to lug around a bulky or dirty cup; Or an expensive novelty item when they feel compelled to throw it away after a weekend left on a windowsill at the office, growing mould. The Cuppuccino concept provides an inexpensive reusable coffee cup that can be disposed of if no longer needed and has the benefit of training people on being observant of their own habits. If a coffee drinker is able to learn that they can use one or more reusable cups, then they are more likely to switch to ones that last indefinitely. Perhaps filling the gaps with a temporary reusable cup without facing guilt.
  • So far, signs are positive towards finding a material that is biodegradable, and at the very least considerably environmentally conscious - e.g. using CPET (made from 70% recycled PET plastics), and is in itself recyclable. The manufacturers and wholesalers I've contacted so far are optimistic, making recommendations on tweaks I can implement to further improve the final product. I've also found a number of US coffee chains who are interested in trialing the product, and reaching out to UK franchises too.
  • A potential problem that I'm exploring at the moment is the amount of space consumed by integrating the lid. A stack of 20 cups would take up the space of 40, or a stack of 20 cups and 100 lids. In trial I want to look at how much of an impact this has on coffee shops. In the meantime, I'm busy looking at exploring recommended tweaks to make the product as compact as possible.

Innovative: The idea 'feels' logical, a sure sign of being on the right track. Possible competitive designs (I've ran a patent search for surety) have not been implemented in the way that I've conceptualised. Essentially the idea borrows small ideas from a multitude of potential solutions (not necessarily related to coffee cups) and considers how they can be integrated into a single unit. It's certainly on the scale of 'small' for innovation - and yet, the impact - both in the short term (reuse once/twice, recycle when done) and long term (learned behaviour switching to a cup-for-life) are huge.

Human-centred: The proof of the pudding will certainly be in the eating. Whilst I'm in the midst of making tweaks and printing prototypes in response to manufacturers and wholesalers, the real test will come in when I can afford the tooling to produce the first trial batch (the most expensive one off cost). I've already lined up a few coffee chains in the US (multiple dozens of locations), and reaching out to UK coffee chains to achieve the same. These chains are keen to support the initiative and are willing to provide feedback from both their own staff's standpoint as well as gauge that of their patrons.

  • This idea was based on Use Case 3 - Straws and take-away coffee lids - and provides a marked improvement for all 3 personas - Anne, Lucas and Nigel. Making the product easily identifiable as a single recyclable plastic; reducing guilt or confusion inherent with reusable coffee cups; establishing learned behaviour through repeatable, unbroken habits.
  • Let's be certain. This is not about making anyone person's life easier, but will make (one small part of) consumerism respectful of the materials used to satisfy convenience. (Cuppuccino is but one of a whole series of possible disposable packaging solutions). To the individual the solution creates the right nods towards the behaviours we hope to see from an environmentally conscious society, without emotional self-punishment when making a mistake. It is only when you elevate beyond the individual and look at the total impact do we see how such a small design choice can drive change.

Scalable: Right now, it's me and my 3D printer, a couple of coffee-forums, dialogue with a couple of potential manufacturers and a distributor, the kind attention from colleagues, friends and family and an insatiable appetite to succeed.

Whilst the idea will stall as a direct business opportunity for me without capital investment to cover tooling costs and initial material and distribution costs (~£25,000), a back-up will be to provide the design, under licence, to manufacturers to offer their own client base. The latter of which will need to be proven by obtaining visibility and support from challenges like this one.

Regionally relevant: The coffee culture has only continued to grow and proliferate urban society across the globe. No country or sleepy hollow has gone untouched by a Costa, Starbucks, Neros (or all three). It's an extremely cheap product, with high profit margins, that provides a stimulating inexpensive treat to commuters, office workers, students and factory workers. It is global and it shows no signs of slowing. The sheer consumption of coffee in disposable cups could be described as a pandemic if it were not for the opportunity to address the market with sound design thinking. Whether in Yeovil, Somerset, the South West, the UK or the world.

Accelerator readiness: I'm familiar with accelerator programmes and incubators, being involved in a number of businesses investing in such schemes (most recently, O2/Telefonica's Wayra and Digital Catapult's IoTUK and Things Connected Boosts). The opportunity for hands on practical support from industry players is exactly what I need to be able to nail down the nuanced challenges of taking a product like this to a global market. Whilst I have past experience in print, the past 18 years have been dedicated to digital. I need access to willing mentors on modelling, plastics, moulds, production volumes, warehousing, distribution, sales locally and across global markets. Recognition of industry players would help me make the right decisions to invest whatever I am able to be afforded into delivering a successful trial, and setting up the right contacts for production and growth.

Fortunately, I am an entrepreneur and a freelance consultant. I'm used to being uncertain, dealing with ambiguity and feeding off of support in any guise I can find it. I seek out opportunities and look for ways to drive solutions that benefit all parties. I've made a living from it and have yet to take up the opportunity to put myself forward to work through an accelerator myself. I've witnessed the power of such programmes and would relish the chance to be supported by one.

Feel free to check out recommendations on my LinkedIn profile to establish my character.

(c) Copyright 2017 Matt Jones UK - All rights reserved.

Company / Organization Name

Uservox Limited Focused on product innovation, primarily in the digital space.


Where are you / your team located?

Somerset, United Kingdom

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

The integrated cup. lid and sleeve design using a single recyclable plastic material, is made both to increase reusability temporarily and make it easier for recycling, with no small components or mixed materials. Should a straw, provided using the same plastic material, be used, the design grips onto the straw making it difficult to remove or separate.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

This idea strongly supports Use Case 3 - Straws and take-away coffee lids - and provides a marked improvement for all 3 personas - Anne, Lucas and Nigel.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

With the 3D model designed, sample prototype prints are in production. Refinements will be made and will be used to conduct qualitative research with coffee store owners and their customers. Once feedback is incorporated into the design, the aim is to have a small batch produced for a small trial. At any point during these tests problems may occur due to inexperience in certain aspects of the production. I will be looking to build up contacts to increase knowledge and ensure viability.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

The access to mentors, contacts and support will be invaluable to being to take ideas further than proof of concept. This alone I feel would alleviate the financial burden of innovation, and enable me to thoroughly test, improve and ultimately mass produce or develop partnerships for production of one of a number of packaging concepts that I have developed over the years, and stalled due to finances and access to resources.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

I spend much of my time looking at problems and seeking explanation, in the hope of finding solutions that resonate well with stakeholders and their customers alike. This design is but one of many that has spent too long in a sketchbook. One that this competition has inspired me to progress further.

Tell us about your work experience

My background has led me through design, marketing, user research, customer experience, and business strategy and innovation - primarily for digital products, with an earlier career in print.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Uservox Limited - Digital product innovation consultancy


Join the conversation:

Photo of Matt Jones

Excited to have a few more coffee stores keen to trial. :)

View all comments