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InLid [Update: User Journey]

Paper cups can be capped with paper InLids shaped to remain assembled to the cup through consumption and post-processing.

Photo of Robert Smith
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Customers who purchase a cold drink for 'take-out' typically receive a paper cup, and then often add a plastic lid to reduce spills and a straw to draw out the trapped liquid.  

Crowned 'sipping lids' are available for 'take-out' hot drinks, and are typically snapped on after sweetener or creamers are added to reduce spills and retain heat.  

These plastic lids snap over the rolled rims of the paper cups to form liquid-tight seals.

Customers can be confused by improperly-compartmentalized or similarly-sized lids, causing them to select a plastic lid that is not appropriate for their size cup.  Incorrectly selected lids are either discarded without being used, or returned, possibly contaminated, to a stack.

Notably, the mix of component materials, usually paper/PE for the cup and PP or PS for the lid and straw requires additional handling during post-processing to avoid devaluing the recycled result.


This idea enables end customers to 'permanently' snap a paper/PE InLid into the top of a paper/PE drinking cup to insulate the contents and protect against spills.  This design is equally appropriate for both cold and hot drinks, providing a single assembly for more efficient manufacturing, shipping, storage, consumption, and post-processing (recycling or composting).

For cold drinks, InLid replaces both the plastic lid and required straw.

For hot drinks, InLid replaces the plastic lid with its smaller sipping port.


Through the process of learning about the Circular economy, it has become obvious that this challenge takes place in the shadow of a highly-interconnected and deeply-ingrained system of businesses, practices and constraints.

InLid is a simple and, in fact, old idea deserving of a re-fresh.

Keeping InLid simple, inexpensive, straightforward to implement with existing processes and infrastructure while remaining highly usable should help to streamline its journey through organizational reviews, business trials, regulatory approvals, early small-scale implementation, large-volume manufacturing and eventual broad market acceptance.


While originally this lid was envisioned as being formed from any number of various compostable or dissolvable materials, such as ice, ground grain, seed pods, fruit rinds or nut shells, conversations with packaging specialists Karen and Vincent in the Netherlands suggested that the best course would be to match the lid to the cup material, improving the recyclability (or compostability) of the resulting assembled product.


One of the strengths of InLid is that it does not significantly alter the existing workflow.  Paper cups are still filled with a beverage and a lid is installed.  Since the openings are not in the center, but close to the edge, a straw is not required.

The real advantages to the InLid product show up when it comes time to dispose of the used container.  Since the assembly is all one material (paper/PE) and is clearly marked for recycling, it is easy to determine which waste container to place it in, and the retaining features of the design keep the two parts together so that the lid does not become lost during post-processing.  


Round 1: A prototype cup was fabricated using existing paper/PE cups and a plastic ice cream cup.  Two snap-in lids were cut from cardboard, representing different handling tabs and sipping ports.

This set of prototype components was shared with three individuals on University Hill in Boulder, Colorado.

Videos of testing with the three participants are attached below:

Key insights from the first round of usability testing include:

  • The test participants found value in the idea of a single-material cup/lid assembly since it simplifies which bin to place it in for post-processing
  • The lid needs to provide better spill protection
  • The lid still needs to allow the use of a straw

Round 2: The second prototype consists of a modified paper/PE cup with a 3D-printed rim/shoulder refining the critical cup/lid interface geometry as illustrated in the image below:

The cup shoulder presents a robust 'stop' for lids as they are inserted into the cup.  Snapping down past the 'undercut' and against this shoulder feature gives positive feedback that the lid is properly seated in the 'trapping zone'.

Three different lids are shown, each offering an alternative way of addressing the issue of 'spill-resisting' while still offering an appropriately-sized sipping port for both hot and cold beverages.  While all of these lids can accommodate straws for end users with that specific need (ex: those who are bed-ridden and must drink while partially reclined), these lids do not require, or encourage, the use of straws to drink from the lidded container.

  1. The installed lid incorporates tabs that can be used to grip the lid for installation.  The tabs can also be either lifted or pushed in by varying amounts to meter both drink and vent flow rates.

  2. The lower left lid illustrates a sipping port that starts small as the cup is tilted for a first sip.  After the fluid level and temperature have been safely determined, the cup can be tilted more for a higher flow rate.

  3. The lower right lid shows a narrow slot for hot drinks with a flow rate that increases slowly as the cup is tilted up higher.  The wide horizontal slot allows for a higher flow rate of cold drinks.

Key insights from the second round of usability testing include:

  • The test participant liked the recessed, flat lid as it would allow her to stack cups
  • The audible 'snap' when the lid was inserted was important feedback that the lid was securely in place as she was concerned that hot liquid not spill on her while drinking or carrying the cup
  • For the non-tabbed lids, graphic indicators should be placed on the lid to guide the user as to which port is more appropriate for either hot or cold liquids


Questions raised, provocations explored and insights received from the usability test participants and the OpenIDEO community as a whole all enriched my design experience and improved this idea through the course of the challenge.

Thanks to all!

Idea Title


Company / Organization Name



Where are you / your team located?

Louisville, Colorado, USA

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

By using paper/PE for both the lid as well as the beverage cup, the need for a separate plastic lid and straw is eliminated. Designing them to stay together through recycling/composting facilitates more efficient post-processing.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

To help Lucas minimize the trash left over from his breakfast smoothies in Case 3, this concept eliminates the wasted plastic lid and straw, while marrying the paper lid to the paper cup through the consumption and follow-on recycling or composting processes.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Paper cups with plastic lids are common throughout the USA for cold drinks and both the USA and EU for hot drinks. This idea is applicable to both hot and cold beverages.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

InLid allows manufacturers to produce both cups and lids from identical stock material. Receiving both components from one supplier potentially simplifies the supply chain for food-service providers, lowering their associated costs.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • 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.

Becoming a Top Idea could expose a number of interested parties (including manufacturing vendors and food-service providers) to this idea, people who could invest in the required infrastructure to make it practical.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Individual idea modified through discussions with OpenIDEO advisors, representative end users and the global design community.

Tell us about your work experience

I am an Industrial Designer with new product development experience in the consumer, industrial and medical sectors. I enjoy early ideation, prototyping and facilitating formative usability studies.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure


Please describe, in detail, your business model and how you intend to test and iterate this model.

The business plan consists of partnering with a knowledgeable and motivated team to demonstrate: 1. Feasibility of its design through technical reviews of prototypes with representative manufacturing vendors and food-service providers 2. Viability of its economics through a comparative analysis of the component, shipping, stocking and serving costs between InLid and existing plastic lids, and 3. Desirability through usability-testing and focus groups during limited-scale consumer trials

Please explain how your innovation will work within, potentially improve, and provide benefit to the plastics system.

By providing a solution that replaces separately-recyclable plastic lids, InLid creates a single 'cup/lid' assembly for more efficient recycling or composting.

Please describe, in depth, how your solution will reduce the overall environmental footprint of packaging.

Hybrid paper/PE cups already exist in the global food-services system. InLid simply offers a solution that combines the existing cup with a lid fabricated from identical material in a manner that keeps them assembled through consumption and post-processing, improving the efficiencies of recycling/composting by eliminating small, loose components.

Please outline how your design, material, and delivery choices will influence price, and how you intend to address the price increase that may result from this solution.

As InLid utilizes a cup/lid combination where both components are fabricated from the same paper/PE stock, material and manufacturing costs should be less than those for separately-manufactured paper/PE cups and plastic thermoformed lids.

Please explain how your solution will impact user behavior, and what design considerations you've included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions with your Idea. 

The key to InLid's successful adoption in the consumer market will be a simple-to-use, low/no cost-impact solution that meets their beverage-consumption needs. The most basic of those needs include: 1. A clean/food-safe container 2. A container that does not leak during normal use and leaks only minimally or slowly when tipped over 3. Containers that can be supplied in at least small, medium and large sizes with nearly identical lid-assembly methods 4. At least minimal thermal insulation

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

1. Contract a knowledgeable and motivated team, including management and packaging design 2. Purchase prototype tooling and 200+ samples of cups and lids 3. Travel & communication services to present prototypes to candidate suppliers and businesses


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Robert Smith !

We have received your Refinement Phase Submission Questions! Just a friendly reminder that the Phase closes tonight, August 31st at 11:30 p.m. PT. so please update your contribution on the platform before the deadline.

Thank you for all your work this Refinement Phase and for being member of the OpenIDEO Community!

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