The long, oft-contentious relationship between plastic lids and paper coffee cups may soon come to a welcome end.

A new company called Unocup is securing financial backing through Kickstarter for an innovative paper coffee cup that ditches plastic and embraces an ergonomic and spill-resistant integrated lid. The idea, conceived by designers Tom Chan and Kaanur Papo, is aimed directly at combatting the 8.25 million tons of plastic waste that enters the oceans each year. In New York City alone, nearly 1.5 billion plastic coffee lids are discarded annually.

According to the designers, it takes only a few seconds to quickly engage the spill-resistant and ergonomic foldable lid.
According to the designers, it takes only a few seconds to quickly engage the spill-resistant and ergonomic foldable lid. (Photo: photography: cara vision/Unocup)

The Unocup's journey from idea to commercially-ready product started in 2015 as an entry in an invention competition at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Manhattan. After winning a $100,000 international sustainability prize from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the design underwent an additional 800 prototypes before settling on the easy-to-use form.

The Unocup was conceived in 2015 as part of an invention competition at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
The Unocup was conceived in 2015 as part of an invention competition at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. (Photo: photography: cara vision/Unocup)

According to the company, folding and unfolding the integrated lid is quick and intuitive. Gone are the days of having make do with an ill-fitting plastic lid or risk spillage with an accidental grip from above. Even the drinking experience, they claim, is an improvement.

"Unocup's drinking spout is designed to fit your lips perfectly and create the smoothest drinking experience," the Kickstarter page explains. "Traditional plastic lids feature a rigid opening that feels unnatural, while Unocup's curved drinking spout guides your beverage fluidly to your mouth."

Because the design is optimized for mass-production using existing cup-making machinery, the company expects the Unocup to "yield significant cost and energy savings in manufacturing, storage, and transportation that would otherwise be spent on plastic lids."

As part of their Kickstarter campaign, the company partnered with NYC artist Alexis Kandra to create unique sustainability themed artwork Unocups. Alexis paints animals in surreal arrangements to raise awareness of the threats they face from human activit
As part of their Kickstarter campaign, the company partnered with NYC artist Alexis Kandra to create unique sustainability themed artwork Unocups. Alexis paints animals in surreal arrangements to raise awareness of the threats they face from human activities. (Photo: collaborative artist: alexis kandra/Unocup)

Speaking with MNN, Chan said local businesses and chains alike have already showed interest in the Unocup.

"We have considered using the design for water-bottle alternatives, as well as for soups, and plan on producing a reusable version in the future," he added.

To have a peek at what's hopefully the future of recyclable coffee cups, jump on over to the company's Kickstarter here.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.