Upcycling or Downcycling? A Planter Made From Used Coffee Grounds Upcycling or Downcycling? A Planter Made From Used Coffee Grounds
Design

Upcycling or Downcycling? A Planter Made From Used Coffee Grounds

by Adele Peters

May 3, 2013

What's the ultimate second life for something like coffee grounds? They're good for composting as they are, whether that's in a backyard composter or in an industrial composter for a city. If the grounds are going to be collected anyway to manufacture something like these pots, would it be better just to compost the coffee instead? 

There's actually a third possibility. Waldman isn't the first to experiment with coffee grounds; Starbucks is researching some other possibilities that might ultimately be more useful. Instead of mixing coffee grounds with plastic to make a new material, Starbucks has been working with researchers to test making plastic directly from the grounds themselves. No oil, no corn, just coffee-based plastic. 

The plastic is made in a somewhat similar way as the version made from corn, but it avoids the big downsides of corn: it's not using land or food that could otherwise be used more productively, and it doesn't require the huge amounts of energy that it does to grow corn (some studies have said that corn-based plastic actually uses more oil to create than oil-based plastic itself). Starbucks is testing similar methods with unsold baked goods, in an effort to reduce other food waste. 

For now, food-based plastic is still in the research stages. Composting isn't always easily accessible. In the end, it's good to explore lots of options for recycling waste, as long as designers can plan ahead for a closed-loop system—not just recycling once, but figuring out how the new product can be recycled, too.

Images via Matthew Waldman.

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Upcycling or Downcycling? A Planter Made From Used Coffee Grounds