In 2015, two New York-based designers conceived of a sustainable alternative to the ubiquitous city coffee cup. Tom Chan, then a sophomore at Cooper Union, developed Unocup —a spill-resistant, foldable cup made of paper—at his school’s Invention Factory summer program. During the six-week program, where students are challenged to design products that address a common need, Chan created some 800 prototypes for Unocup alongside his collaborator and cofounder, architect Kaanur Papo. The result of all this dedicated prototyping? $100,000 from an international sustainability award, the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize , to further develop the fledgling design. [Image: courtesy Unocup] Now a full-fledged company, Unocup aims to cut down the amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean ( 8 million tons annually) by replacing conventional cup and lid designs with a single, origami-like cup that folds to create a lid. New York City’s caffeinated community alone uses roughly 1.1 million pounds of single-use plastic food ware (which includes hot drink lids) every year, whereas the entire world creates 300 million tons of single-use plastic waste annually. Since these omnipresent lids are responsible for 5% of those 8.25 million tons entering the ocean, according to Chan and Papo, their […]


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