There’s been a lot of buzz in both the design and coffee worlds this past week about an innovative take on the disposable cup called, Compleat. The concept was developed by Architect Peter Herman and refined by graphic designer Daren Bascome, both based in Boston. The problem behind it is a persistent one that many people have attempted to solve—reduce the waste from disposable cups.
Last year Starbucks sponsored the BetaCup contest on Jovoto, a forum for product design competitions, to develop a more sustainable to-go cup. The winner wasn’t a cup at all, but a game that served as an incentive to bring your own reusable cup. I found the winning solution quite admirable, but have yet to hear about it implemented in Starbucks stores.
The Compleat Cup is the latest attempt to solve one of the more annoying environmental problems in the coffee industry. While it’s a nice concept, I don’t think its ready for prime time and I wouldn’t expect to see them popping up in coffee shops around the world just yet.
While the main pitch is that you reduce the use of a plastic lid, which is of course a scourge in itself—many lids alone can be recycled. The cups are the problem, because the paper is fused to a thin plastic lining that most US recycling systems can’t handle.
Even if the lining used a bio plastic, those only degrade if they are properly disposed of, i.e. composted. Most places in the US don’t have compost programs in place. So while these cups will reduce part of the problem, it still leaves a pressing one that can really only be solved by bringing your own mug.
The design may be iconic, but what about the people—myself included—who prefer to drink without a lid? If you open the folds, I don’t see any practical way to drink from this like a normal cup.
When the cup is folded up to create a drinking spout, it forms a direct funnel into your mouth. While this may be a great idea for cold drinks on hot days, it makes me pause when considering hot coffee. There’s no longer a barrier to allow for the “is this going to scald my mouth” sip while drinking blindly.
Admittedly these observations have been made without having yet tried a Compleat cup, however, I feel that I’ve drank coffee from enough beverage receptacles to make an educated critique of it. Once I’ve had the opportunity to try one, I’ll be sure to follow up with the results.