Sustainable America Blog

Building a Better Coffee Cup

The TrioCup coffee cup with no plastic lid

The founders of TrioCup are on a mission to design a better cup of coffee—literally. What started as a project for a student competition is may be in a coffee shop near you soon.

The cup, which we discovered after it won Talk Trash City’s pitch event in October, is made only of paper with no plastic lid. The top of the one-piece cup folds down and interlocks leaving a hole for drinking and just enough room for steam (or a tea-bag string) to escape. The folds create a cup with three sides that’s easier to hold. If it is dropped, it’s designed to spill very little coffee.

“The idea was to make a less wasteful cup,” says Tom Chan, who started the cup project with a fellow student when he was at The Cooper Union in New York. Their professors weren’t impressed with their initial design. “They wanted us to add more functionality to it.”

To learn more about the needs of coffee drinkers, they interviewed several people and discovered that they actually spill a lot of coffee. “Almost all of them had spilled coffee once in their life and it was horrible for them.” So they designed a paper cup with an origami-like lid that would stay closed when dropped from a few feet. Here’s a video of the cup being dropped:

The design went through a few changes to make it more manufacturing- and user-friendly. The version they settled on is designed with both baristas and the customers in mind. “This means that it is easy to fold, easy to drink, easy to reopen, easy to stack, and even has two corners to hang a tea bag,” said Chan. “It is also potentially cheaper than the cup-lid combination.”

A batch of samples should be in the hands of potential customers for testing soon. Chan also wants to work on the eco-friendliness of the paper used to make the cup; he’s hoping to use an eco-friendly waterproof coating that will make the entire cup recyclable or compostable. “If we do that, we need to identify a system to recollect the cups,” says Chan. We’re working on all of that.”

Three TrioCup coffee cups

We were a proud sponsor of Trash Talk City’s latest pitch competiton. Talk Trash City is a series of fun, energetic conversations intended to critique fresh ideas about handling New York City’s waste. Past participants in the organization’s competitions include Toast Ale and RISE Products, two food-waste reducing start-ups.

5 Ways to Green Your K-Cup
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6 Ways the Coffee Industry Is Turning Waste into a Resource

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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