Unocup is a new disposable paper coffee cup that has been designed to help reduce the horrific amounts of plastic waste that pollute our oceans each year, while still providing coffee drinkers with the convenience of drinking coffee on the go.

The idea for the cup was conceived by Tom Chan in 2015 while he was studying mechanical engineering in New York City. Frustrated by the amount of waste on the streets, Tom created a prototype that won a circular design award at the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize and was featured by several media outlets, including the BBC and National Geographic. A few years later, Tom who was born and raised in Hong Kong, decided, to make the cup a reality.

After making hundreds of prototypes, and with the help of peers and mentors, Tom arrived at the final design, in which the one-piece paper cup includes a flap at the top that folds into itself to create a spill-proof lid.

Unocup claims to be a “breeze to fold, hold, drink from, and reopen.” And, perhaps most importantly, the entire cup life cycle becomes more sustainable. Collecting used paper cups becomes easier since customers will no longer need to deposit lids and cups into two different collection bins. And users won’t need to fiddle and look for a lid, or worry about using one or not, therefore creating a more comfortable drinking experience.

Unocup's design is also optimized for mass production using existing cup-making machinery. Its use means that lids do not need to be manufactured, stored, or transported, saving suppliers energy, materials, and time.

Tom hopes that by bringing Unocup to market he will achieve his vision of having lid-free cups in all coffee shops and restaurants, thereby eliminating plastic lids for good.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing plastic pollution. 8.25 million tons of plastic waste, which takes a million years to decompose, enter the ocean each year. And while straws have perhaps generated the most attention out of single-use plastic items, plastic lids, which often do not get recycled, actually contribute 8 times more ocean waste than straws do.

The plastic lid was invented in the 1960s, and, Tom says, it is an outdated model. It requires two parts when in reality, you only need one. With Unocup, businesses and consumers could help the planet by getting rid of the plastic lids that create so much plastic waste each year, and still enjoy coffee on the go.

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Created 26 May, 2021.