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The capless coffee cup

A new experience of drinking coffee on the go through a re-design of the take-away coffee lids

Photo of Marilu Valente
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The take-away coffee cup has become an icon for style and social integration. Its form is distinguishable and became a standard for drinking coffee. Changing this delivery system is not only a technical challenge (such as manufacture) but it's also is a challenge for social acceptance. This is how design can ease the transition to a better alternative. 

The usual take-away coffee cup is made with two components. The cup and the lid, which are made with two different materials and two different manufacturing techniques. This makes its lifecycle very wasteful. 

One way to reduce the waste produced in its lifecycle is to eliminate one of the components. In this case, I eliminated the lid. The new cup has a flexible surface which can be bent and clipped into place to keep the cup open. 

The shape of the cup is stackable. The cup can be used by a barrista in the same way as a normal coffee cup. 

Idea Title

The capless coffee cup

Company / Organization Name

I am the lead designer from Merged Vertices, a design firm which focus principally on sustainability and the circular economy.


Where are you / your team located?

Germany, Europe

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

The small plastic elements are very difficult to collect and then recycle. For existing take-away coffee cups, the plastic lid does not always end up being recycled. This solution would eliminate the need of a lid by integrating a bendable closing system within the cup.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

The design is related to Use case 3: Straws and take-away coffee lids

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


How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Market entry would start by talking to manufacturing plants and by producing a prototype. The next step would be to get some orders from first customers which would be small cafes, which would then precede big coffee chains. The potential obstacle would be the initial price point, so initially it would make sense to address the high end market segment.

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 accelerator program would offers the foundations for developing a prototype (with the financial support). The backing from from IDEO and the EllenMcArthur Foundation would also provide a better position to contact potential customers and getting faster to the right contact person. Furthermore, the network of partners would be an invaluable asset to potentially run a pilot to introduce the product to the market faster.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

My idea emerged from my research into plastic packaging in the personal care sector. As a designer, my inspiration comes from the analysis of the entire lifecycle of a product and how we can optimise the different steps along the lifecycle. I precedently designed a capless shampoo bottle which was the basis of this design, by applying the same principle to the design of a coffee cup.

Tell us about your work experience

I worked for international design and engineering firms before co-founding a startup in electronic waste recycling and starting a freelance design firm focused on sustainability.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Freelance designer

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Marilu!

Really interesting design!

Have you been able to produce a physical model of the cup? What materials would be used? Have you thought about the manufacturing process for the cups and the changes that would need to be made to the existing system to produce these cups?

Photo of Marilu Valente

Hey Kate!
I am in the process of producing a 3d printed prototype. For the prototype the initial material used would be PLA. For industrial manufacturing I was looking into biopolymers for instance . However the next steps would be to talk to manufacturers and get feedback from them for technical details and then changes in the design.

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