May 25, 2011 Nathan

Put a lid on it: An excursus into the murky lives of plastic lids

I hate plastic lids. I hate takeaway coffee actually. I’d much rather drink my coffee from a nice heavy cup that’s just the right size. But plastic lids are a necessary evil. Thanks to people who like to sue companies for serving hot coffee. We apparently use 1.5 billion of these things every year (source).

There’s more design to these lids than meets the eye though, and the Atlantic has a fascinating piece about the plastic lid. Well worth a read, especially if you like to bore people at parties or you want to hit on somebody at a cafe and need an in.

This is the “Solo Traveler” Lid.

“For example, the Solo Traveler lid was designed to accommodate the nose and lip of a drinker. In accomplishing this design goal, the necessary height of the lid made it useful for foam-topped gourmet coffees.”

The simplicity and usability of this lid has inspired admiration from designers. Like this piece of effusive (and pretty weird) praise:

“Here come the inevitable Freudian references: the Solo Traveler lid is a substitute for a mother’s breast – what we might call nature’s original travel lid. The flat covers with the tear-back openings offer no such metaphoric representation. Instead, spout = nipple. Paper cup = warm skin. Coffee, tea or soy = mother’s milk. Ergo the lid is a nurturing apparatus. It provides comfort and joy as well as nourishment. Certainly plastic is not the most warm and loving material, but somehow the fundamental shape transcends the emotive limitations of the materials. Somehow that lozenge-shaped opening is a means to a totally satisfying end.”


Image Credit: New York Times Design Profile

That’s overthinking it a bit.

Lids are the product of significant innovation.

“Twenty-six new patents were issued in the ’80s alone, for refinements in “mouth comfort, splash reduction, friction fit, mating engagement, and one-handed activation.”

I don’t know about you, but thinking about it, I’ve noticed several innovations in my life time – so that means there have been many more since then.

You’ll find more detail than you ever thought possible about some of the lids in that picture here.

This is the “Sweetheart Spider”…

“This Sweetheart lid was patented in 1985. Its tear lines, which rely on stamping to within a five mil tolerance, were intended to replace scored, or dotted sip tab junctures. The removable tab is supposed to reattach to the cup by the bead -the round edge that crimps the cup lip- but this is a dubious proposition, even if you manage not to lose the tab.”

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About the Author

Nathan Nathan is a coffee lover, home roaster, amateur barista and coffee tinkerer. He's married, has two kids, one turtle, and for a day job works for Creek Road Presbyterian Church. He previously worked in PR. This blog is his attempt to make coffee tax deductible.

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