Vacuum Flasks – A good start

One of the approaches to the paper cup issue we’re seeing at the betacup is that of product redesign. Some submissions are suggesting stainless steel or aluminum reusable cups, and for good reason: plastic tends to leach taste (and chemicals) into your drink and discolor rapidly when holding liquids like coffee or juice. The issue with putting coffee in a steel or aluminum container is that of temperature: metal is, obviously, an excellent conductor of heat and will rapidly become as hot as the beverage inside.

Companies like Thermos and Hydroflask have stepped around this problem with vacuum flasks: a double wall of stainless steel with a vacuum in between, then sealed at the top. The technology works well: Hydroflask and Thermos claim hot liquids will stay hot for 12 hours and the layer of air means you won’t burn your hands trying to drink out of the container.

There’s a bigger issue here than product design, however. Consumers know these products are out there but adoption is low (see Why we don’t switch to reusable). Vacuum flasks are still bulky, although Thermos includes a cup and Hydroflask has slimmed theirs down to a more standard sports-bottle profile.

In my mind, though the biggest issue is cleaning them – particularly if you put milk or cream in your coffee. The mouths of the bottles tend to be too small to get a sponge or dishcloth into them, and they’re deep enough to usually require a bottle brush or the ‘fill-with-soapy-water-and-shake-and-rinse-and-rinse-and-rinse’ method. Vacuum flasks are not dishwasher safe; the seam that connects the two stainless layers can crack in the dishwasher and ruin the insulating properties of the vacuum layer.

How can we overcome these problems? Submit your ideas at http://www.jovoto.com/contests/drink-sustainably/landing

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