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Spill Resistant Disposable Cup (Patent-Pending)

This disposable and recyclable one piece paper coffee cup has an integrated origami folding lid that prevents catastrophic spills.

Photo of Tom Chan
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Our patent-pending invention is a disposable one piece paper coffee cup, which has an integrated origami folding lid that prevents spills that might burn you, ruin your clothing, and/or destroy your laptop among other things. Our cup is spill resistant because of its interlocking folding lid. Traditional cups and lids create catastrophic spills when the lid pops off the rim of the cup. Our design reduces the chance that the lid will open when it is not intended to do so.

Our cup is easily manufactured. Paper can easily be cut with a laser cutter and modern technology is more than capable of automating the folding and assembling of the cup.

After testing it extensively, we know the cup works well.

Our desire is to enter the disposable cup market and add value without asking users to change their habits dramatically. We are looking to improve the user experience for both sides of a coffee shop: the one that serves the coffee and the one that drinks the coffee, ensuring easy and intuitive user interactions by conducting customer interviews to develop empathy with the nuances of the consumer coffee drinking experience. We also looked to avoid changes that would make their experience less enjoyable while simultaneously testing features we thought would enhance their experience. 

In May 2017, we consulted Eric Chan, CEO of Ecco Design Inc., for design advice and realised that our initial prototype was not user-friendly, costly to make, and difficult to manufacture. As such, we spent our time from May to August redesigning the cup from the ground up. What we came up with in the end was a much improved design that was more user-friendly and potentially less costly than the traditional cup-and-lid.

With this new design, we organized a prototype user-testing pop up at the lobby of NAB Building of Cooper Union in partnership with NYC OpenIdeo Chapter in August 29th, 2017. We also interviewed managers from major coffee shops around the East Village area, such as Think Coffee, Starbucks coffee, Au Bon Pain, and Peet’s Coffee. 

Here is the Youtube link to summarize the cup’s refinement video and interview insights. Please watch it. 

The feedback session interviews offered us valuable user insight into our new design, revealing features and flaws that we had overlooked before. These included new ideas that our interviewees suggested and feedback on certain design aspects of our cup. A summary of our findings is listed below:

- Approximately half of test users expressed that they cared most about eco-friendliness, while most others cared most about spill resistance, with only a few caring about the cost.

- Some users expressed that lessening the environmental footprint may be a less enticing feature for the general coffee drinking population than spill resistance, which may be more enticing to a larger audience.

- Users noted that our cup allowed for easy pouring (For sharing a drink or so). We also found that it can filter out ice to prevent splashing when pouring.

- Users recommended adding colors or numbers to the folding flaps of the cup in order to help coffee drinkers understand how to fold it.

- Some users tended to press down too much on the flaps during the folding process, causing an incomplete lock. This is because of the inconsistency of our prototypes.

- Users also don’t mind drinking cold drinks out of our cup.

- Multiple users expressed that the original drinking spout is too wide

- The semicircle shape at the spout changes the direction of the flow of coffee into a person’s mouth. Most users who brought it up said it was neither better nor worse, just different. However, some said that it got in the way of their drinking.

We also found some feedback from comments on our OpenIDEO entry that opened our eyes to even more possibilities::

- Mohammed suggested adding ridges on the outer surface of our paper cup to give users a better grip. We believe this may also insulate the hot cup from the user’s hand. He also suggested implementing an inexpensive paper or cork weight to the bottom of the cup, or changing the height/width ratio to lower the center of gravity to reduce the likelihood the cup can be knocked over. While this may increase the price of our cups, we would have to do more user feedback to validate its incorporation

- Bettina asked us to consider the use of the cup for cold drinks too and the incorporation of the ability to use a straw. We were originally so focused on hot drinks like coffee and tea, which traditionally use paper cups, that we didn’t consider cold drinks enough. She emphasized that our solution can still be valuable because our idea gets rid of the plastic lid altogether and has is paper based, so it still leaves a better footprint compared to existing cold drink solutions. 

As mentioned earlier, barista feedback revealed that most customers are not mindful of where they throw out their used stuff, and this will be a difficult thing to change. Instead of demanding that the customers change their habits and begin to observe which objects go in which bin, the cup collecting rack idea discussed in earlier questions discourages consumers from putting other trash there because unlike usual trash bins, racks will not physically hold other kinds of waste. While customers would not normally sort their waste, they are even more unlikely to leave litter directly on the floor. However, one complication is that we found that many coffee drinkers would not want to return to the store to properly dispose of their used cup. We found that implementing a reward system like a stamp card for a discount after returning cups would be incentive enough for many coffee drinkers. This is definitely a concept that we will continue to work on in the future in order to provide even more incentive for consumers to adopt our cup.

This is our YouTube playlist of unedited user interviews:

Idea Title


Company / Organization Name

Spill Res Cup LLC


Where are you / your team located?

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art New York City

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

Americans go through about 1.5 billion plastic lids each year. Our one piece coffee cup design would reduce the waste generated from people disposing of plastic lids by eliminating the plastic lid entirely. Also, its spill resistant and unique origami design would attract customers to switch from the typical cup with lids. It can also be made using recyclable paper and an easily removable plastic coating, making the cup entirely recyclable.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Our idea applies to case 3, staws and take away coffee lids.

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

We will be implementing our idea in local coffee shops around the New York City area where we are based. As the product is refined, we will scale nationally and globally.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Upon arriving at a MVP, we will manufacture approx. 9K cups to match the weekly demand for a single cafe. After a trial run in 1 store, we will expand into all of the small cafe chain’s locations. After working with a single chain, our cup will have greater market recognition that would allow us to expand into other cafes and eventually into a major cafe chain. We plan to overcome capital investment obstacles and develop manufacturing relationships by working with a cafe to introduce the cup.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

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

Being selected would enable us connect with design and manufacturing experts that could help us finalize the design of our cup as well as get it to full scale production. We also hope to build relationships in the food packaging industry and gain insight into making our product even more eco-friendly and competitive in the market. Our work with the accelerator program will have been a success if we are able to produce a manufacturable product and gain channels for manufacturing and distribution.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

The idea emerged during Invention Factory 2015, a rigorous six week summer program at The Cooper Union in which students invent a tangible product that meets a significant need.(

Tell us about your work experience

I am an artist who has just graduated from Cooper Union with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. I have worked as a teaching assistant/coach in innovation-related programs.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Currently, it is a single-member LLC . I have signed a partnership agreement with two of my classmates; Austin Wong and Daniel McNulty II.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Scott Sammons

Sighn me up as a betaa tester! I would buy 10,000 cups to start as soon as available. The space saving aspect is very compelling as a remote location construction worker. Breakroom supplies take too much needed space. Different paper formulations have very different responses to liquids and temps. Note how many times you can wash currency. Hemp and bamboo have great fibers to work with. My personal motivation would be to have a series of lay flat cups and bowls with lids.

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