fb-pixel Skip to main content

A coffee cup you fill, fold, sip from

A quest to rid it of polluting plastic lids drove the design

Thomas Edison nailed it: Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.

And although he did not say it, a good cup of coffee can help.

The Compleat cup promises to be cheaper as well as easier on the environment.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A century later, architect Peter Herman is working to make not only good coffee but to create a more ingenious cup. In an office on Albany Street last week, he stood before 94 prototypes of a radical new disposable cup and said his Eureka moment came at number 58, when he figured out the folds.

“It seemed impossible for the flaps to open and close multiple times without ripping,’’ said Herman, who helps designs homes, universities, and other institutions at the Cambridge firm Ellenzweig. “That was very frightening.’’


A dedicated coffee drinker, Herman, 49, was disturbed by the “environmental insult’’ of disposable cups, and by their design - especially the placement of a plastic lid on a paper product.

“You have two dissimilar materials,’’ he said. “There’s an awkwardness. In my profession, the pursuit of simplicity is everything.’’

One day, he crumpled an empty cup and saw that by folding the top into an arc, and losing the lid entirely, he had a simple, enclosed cup with a drinking spout. Now, his invention folds like origami to form a spout from which to drink. The asymmetrical cup, called Compleat, is a green alternative to cups with petroleum-based plastic lids.

To refine the concept, Herman approached graphic designer Daren Bascome. Bascome, who runs a Boston branding agency, Proverb, tweaked the design to create three panels, including the place where a lid would go, where companies can place their brand or message. “The average consumer has a paper cup for 16 minutes,’’ Bascome said. “That’s 16 minutes that the company has to build a relationship with consumers.’’

Lacking a lid, the polyethylene-coated paper Compleat cup could save money. “If you make a cup that costs less and also helps the environment, that’s a powerful synergy,’’ said Stephen D’Amato , a Compleat partner.


The challenge will be getting the coffee-drinking public to understand the concept - fill, fold, drink.

“Like anything new and radical, there is always the inertia of what’s come before you, what people have grown accustomed to,’’ said Jeff Wager , a company cofounder. “It takes product branding and positioning and marketing thrust to start people thinking in a different direction.’’

But first, the cup has to hit the market. The company is looking for corporate partnerships and for a manufacturer.

By mid-December, Herman, Bascome, Wager, and D’Amato will have invested $115,000 in Compleat. With a patent pending, they can go to market now, they said, but they expect the process to take at least a year or two.

Meghan Hubbs, co-owner of Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, where compostable cups and lids made out of corn are used and sold, said she might carry the Compleat cup.

“If it’s able to protect the customer from leakage, if it’s functional and has the environmental aspect, I would definitely consider it,’’ she said.

Jared Mancini, owner of Sip Café in Post Office Square in Boston, is intrigued by the Compleat because it jettisons the lid.

“I’ve always hated the sippy cup,’’ he said, “but from a practicality standpoint the question is are the customers going to want to deal with it? I’d be nervous about the execution, the staff, folding it, getting their hands in the drink.’’