Could foldable cups be the future of takeaway coffee?

Jane Merchant
June 23, 2023
An image of a foldable cup, foldable takeaway cup, butterfly cup, foldable paper cup in an article on whether foldable cups are the future of takeaway coffee

The conversations around single-use plastics in the specialty coffee industry often centre on one of the most voluminous waste streams generated – the disposable cup. Most of the population uses takeaway cups and rarely disposes of them appropriately. Therefore, many countries are working towards or have implemented bans on single-use plastics. These include polyethene or bioplastic-lined paper cups, and more recently, takeaway cup lids. 

Notably, takeaway lids perform an invaluable function: allowing customers to consume hot beverages safely during their commute. That said, cafés must balance these benefits with the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly takeaway packaging options. 

This has given rise to several alternatives, including compostable takeaway cup lids made from renewable materials and foldable cups. Also known as butterfly cups, these foldable paper vessels have lids integrated into the paper cup to avoid the use of a separate, plastic one. 

But how reliable could these cups be? And are they likely to become the takeaway coffee cup of the future? 

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Are to-go cup lids still necessary?

Takeaway coffee cup lids have existed for almost as long as disposable cups themselves. Before society understood how germs and illnesses spread, it was common for several people to share a single cup or drinking receptacle. However, by the early 1900s, enough illnesses had swept through the world’s population for inventors to pioneer disposable cups. 

By the 1930s, these cups were accommodating hot beverages and soon after, patents for various types of lids were being filed. As time passed and society evolved, these lids underwent various transformations. For instance, consumers began making holes in the lids so they could drink while walking or driving. This led to the development of tearable or pull-back tab lids

By the nineties, designers had settled on the general shape most of us identify as a typical coffee cup lid. This lid has a slightly raised dome and an ergonomic lip, allowing consumers to tilt the cup without their nose touching its surface. It also features an oval sipping slot and is manufactured in a single piece, making it cost-effective to produce and purchase en masse.

While many forms of these lids exist, most offer similar benefits for consumers, including heat retention, mouth comfort, splash reduction, friction fit, and one-handed activation. Notably, takeaway cup lids receive less focus than single-use cups, so their environmental impact is often underestimated. However, a 2019 study reveals a paper cup accounts for 4% of the climate impact of a takeaway latte. The remaining 96% is coffee and milk production, and the energy required to make the beverage. Including a plastic lid with the order adds another 5%.

An image of a barista handing a takeaway coffee cup to a consumer, takeaway coffee cups, disposable cups, single-use cups, takeaway coffee cup lids, in an article on whether foldable cups are the future of takeaway coffee

Why consider foldable cups?

In 2019, researchers from the Department of Industrial Design at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology released an analysis of design attributes of more eco-friendly takeout cups. Its aim was to determine the difference between consumers’ preferred takeaway cups and eco-friendly cups. This was done by examining consumers’ opinions and preferences concerning eco-friendly takeaway cup design. 

The study found consumers prefer eco-friendly takeaway cups with fewer design attributes. Essentially, consumers are willing to forgo some functionality in order to retain the cup’s environmental benefit. If given the chance, this would involve using a takeaway cup with no lid, straw, or tray.

As customers could be receptive to such offerings and willing to understand the payoff they come with, many manufacturers are developing versions of foldable cups. Most foldable cups eliminate the need for a lid by featuring a top that folds over itself to prevent spills, resembling fast food takeout boxes

Each flap interlocks with the other with an audible click and stays in place until it is opened manually. As the entire cup is a single piece of material, it can be easier to manufacture and recycle than traditional cups. Additionally, it is easier to ship as it can be packed flat in a single box. Some butterfly cups are home compostable and claim to be up to 50% cheaper to make than traditional disposable and compostable cups. More so, some claim the cups can be recycled up to seven times before disposal.

So, should cafés consider integrating this option?

An image of a coffee consumer holding a takeaway coffee cup and a coffee cup lid, takeaway coffee cup lid, single-iiuse coffee cup, in an article on whether foldable cups are the future of takeaway coffee

Moving forward with disposable cups 

As more governments implement bans on single-use plastics, or specific bans on disposable cups, it would be naïve of cafe owners to ignore the potential benefits of butterfly cups. That said, they are in no way obligated to make the switch. 

Before deciding whether to invest in foldable paper cups, cafe owners must understand they are still being rolled out across limited businesses. Therefore, they are yet to be widely accessible. Cafe owners must also determine the feasibility of the switch, as the transition can be a costly process that may involve overlapping orders.

Cafe owners can opt for takeaway cups that feature lids made of compostable or recyclable materials. These include lids made from recycled paper and lined with an environmentally friendly polylactic acid (PLA) lining. Additionally, there are compostable and biodegradable options that can be made from bagasse paper, sugarcane, or bamboo fibre. These can also be covered in a recyclable and compostable coating to protect the material from being weakened by the coffee. 

MTPak Coffee have extensive experience in helping clients with all their packaging needs — be it takeaway cups or ground and whole bean bags. MTPak Coffee offers specialty coffee roasters and cafe owners a range of SensoryLids, which are specifically designed so customers can enjoy the full aroma of your takeaway coffee without spillages, or negatively affecting the environment. 

Our SensoryLid was designed with the help of cupping experts and barista champions and allows consumers to continue receiving the coffee’s aroma thanks to an innovative sensory hole. Plus, we offer compostable and recyclable options to help businesses remain sustainable. 

Additionally, our range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups is made from recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre, PET, or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA lining and are available in different sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz.

Our takeaway coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable, and can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo or recycling instructions. 

For more information on sustainable takeaway coffee lids, contact our team. 

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