What are foldable takeaway coffee cups?

Antonio Salles
October 20, 2023
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Plastic pollution is a global problem. Statistics show that 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away annually in the UK alone. In order to reduce plastic pollution, sustainable packaging materials have become more accessible. Additionally, innovations such as foldable takeaway coffee cups have entered the market.

Foldable takeaway cups, also known as ‘butterfly cups’ are aptly named due to their unique folding mechanism. They are designed to eliminate plastic cup lids entirely, as well as excess materials, as they’re made from a single sheet of cardboard. 

Could these cups be the future of sustainable takeaway coffee? To learn more about what those working within the specialty coffee market think, I spoke with Nicole Battefeld-Montgomery, World Championship trainer and coffee competitor.

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Foldable takeaway coffee cups: The industry’s answer to plastic pollution? 

A 2019 study found that 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 are more receptive to such offerings, many manufacturers are developing versions of foldable cups. One of these advancements is the ‘Good Cup’. Designed by Cyril Drouet, a seasoned packaging designer, this cup aims to address the persistent environmental challenges of single-use cups. 

Essentially, the ‘Good Cup’ eliminates the need for a separate plastic lid. This is through its unique folding mechanism that prevents spills and effectively ‘closes’ the cup. The design resembles that of a takeout box, with interlocking flaps that form a secure, slightly curved top. 

In order to open the cup, baristas and consumers must deliberately push on the top to release the ‘lock’. While it may take some time to get used to, particularly for baristas, foldable takeaway coffee cups are gaining user acceptance worldwide.

Notably, foldable takeaway coffee cups are likely to be more expensive than traditional disposable cups, particularly as they are fairly new to the market. Beyond this, it may take time for both baristas and consumers to become familiar and comfortable with the foldable design. Some might find it less convenient, especially in a fast-paced coffee shop environment. 

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How is the world dealing with plastic pollution?

National bans on single-use plastics are pushing demand for eco-friendly alternatives such as foldable takeaway coffee cups. 

As the entire cup is a single piece of material, it can be easier to manufacture and recycle than traditional cups. Additionally, it is more convenient 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.

Foldable cups, such as ‘Good Cup’ are becoming more accessible in Canada, Japan, Australia, China, and the UK, where governments are taking active strides to eliminate single-use plastics. 

Germany, for example, plays a significant role in shaping global climate policy, advancing renewable energy technologies, and striving to enhance energy and resource efficiency. The German government actively supports initiatives that encourage environmentally sustainable and climate-friendly progress.

“Coffee is the most consumed drink after water,” explains Nicole, who placed first in the 2022 German Brewers Cup. “Plus, Germans drank more coffee than ever in 2022, at least 4 cups per person. If we look at the takeaway segment, consumers in Germany use 2.8 billion disposable cups a year for hot beverages.

“These cups and lids often end up in the environment shortly after use because they are discarded carelessly or fall out of overflowing waste bins,” she adds. 

Over the past few years, Nicole has observed many diverse approaches to addressing the cup crisis in Germany. One of these approaches includes a deposit system that allows used cups to be exchanged for clean ones. While this has proven effective within the specialty coffee sector, it is an impractical option for coffee businesses located in train stations, airports, or service stations. 

Nicole mentions that biodegradable cups are designed to break down within a few weeks and leave no waste behind. However, she states that issues arise when consumers place these cups in the same bin as single-use plastics: which results in them being incinerated together. Thus, the well-intentioned idea becomes ineffective, and consumers are inadvertently engaged in greenwashing.

Nicole believes foldable takeaway coffee cups should be entirely recyclable and biodegradable. “Regarding the materials used, Hydroblox water-resistant paper, which prevents leaks, might be my most favourable choice,” she adds. Ideally, the cups should not contain any plastic components, reducing single-use plastic waste.

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Investing in foldable takeaway coffee cups: What to consider

Investing in foldable takeaway coffee cups is a step in the right direction. However, it is crucial that coffee roasters and cafes first consider a few factors. 

Most importantly, the materials used to make foldable takeaway coffee cups must be durable enough to contain hot and cold beverages without compromising integrity. Additionally, the coating should be safe and non-toxic. Options such as linings made from polylactic acid (PLA) and aqua coatings can help ensure eco-friendliness.

Branding is another crucial aspect to consider. Eco-friendly printing methods and water-based inks can help a brand stand out as one of environmental sustainability. 

As the world strives for a greener future, foldable takeaway coffee cups present a unique opportunity for businesses to make a significant and positive impact. Worldwide concerns about the environment are a testament that foldable coffee cups should not be a luxury but a necessary ingredient to the future of our planet. 

At MTPak Coffee provides specialty roasters and coffee shops with a diverse selection of eco-friendly bamboo takeaway coffee cups and sustainable takeaway cups crafted from recyclable materials like PET and kraft paper, featuring an eco-conscious PLA lining. 

These cups have the potential to reduce coffee packaging waste significantly. As they replace traditional disposable cups, their single-piece design reduces plastic usage, helping address the plastic crisis. They also allow coffee brands to take a step toward sustainability, demonstrating their commitment to environmental responsibility.

In conclusion, foldable takeaway coffee cups are a promising solution to the plastic crisis, offering an innovative and eco-friendly alternative to traditional disposable cups and their accessories. As the World becomes increasingly conscious of the environmental challenges we face, these cups have the potential to reshape the way we enjoy our daily brew and help us create a greener future.

At MTPak Coffee, our foldable paper takeaway coffee cups are available in 8 different sizes: 4 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, 16 oz, 22 oz, and 24 oz. Made from one piece of material, our foldable cups close up easily and will stay in place until opened manually. 

Our foldable coffee cups are available in recyclable and compostable materials, as well as bagasse paper, clear PET, or bamboo pulp. More so, they can be completely customised to showcase your brand. 

For more information on foldable takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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