Behind every cup of coffee, there’s a mound of wet grounds. Despite being the byproduct of a delicious and necessary process, used coffee grounds don’t tend to get a lot of respect. Often, they are taken out with the trash or flushed down the garbage disposal. But If you’re into reusing things that might seem like trash, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of ways to give your old coffee grounds a second life at home, from tilling them into your garden to making a skin-smoothing sugar scrub. Those reuses are great on a small scale, but when it comes to finding ways to benefit from coffee grounds tossed out by coffee shops, restaurants, and cafeterias around the globe, we have to think bigger. Fortunately, a number of companies and designers are doing just that, and looking at coffee grounds as the next sustainable building material - particularly because of its low cost and small eco-footprint.
Re-worked, a non-profit design company that specializes in green technology, found an ingenious way to make furniture from coffee waste. Coffee grounds are combined with recycled waste plastics to create a composite material that is incredibly durable, waterproof, and easy to form into a variety of useable home furnishings including chairs, bar stools, and (wait for it) coffee tables. Unfortunately, we’re not sure how long it will be before you can actually sit on a chair made from coffee, but we hope the concept will catch on. After all, there are endless potential applications for a natural composite material made from the cost-effective byproduct of your morning cuppa, and looks pretty nice too.
South Korean researchers developed a way to use recycled coffee grounds to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Using a fairly simple process, used coffee grounds get re-brewed in a potassium hydroxide solution, then dried out, and then super-heated in an argon-atmospheric furnace. The transformation turns discarded coffee grounds into a super carbon sponge, and the whole process takes less than 24 hours to complete, making it a pretty darn efficient treatment.
Anyone who has ever spilled coffee on a white table knows the dark brew can leave powerful stains. That component can be annoying in some circumstances, but really fantastic in others. That’s because, as it turns out, a stain can becoming a beautiful thing in the hands of a talented artist. Take the amazing coffee ‘paintings’ of 25-year-old Indonesian artist Ghidaq al-Nizar, for example. He uses coffee and used grounds to create intricate scenes – often using a single leaf as a canvas. The combination of scale and medium make this art far more eye-catching than any barista’s latte swirls.
If old coffee grounds can be used to create beautiful paintings, it makes perfect sense that coffee could also become a replacement for printer ink. That’s what the RITI Printer does. This green gadget was a winner in an eco-friendly design competition when it debuted as the first so-called “coffee printer.” Using coffee as ink isn’t the only eco-friendly aspect of this printer, though. The whole contraption is designed to be green, using much less electricity than standard printers, and the vessel that holds the used coffee grounds (or old tea leaves) is designed to be refilled rather than thrown away.
Perhaps the single most fantastic re-use we’ve ever heard for coffee grounds is based on closing the circle of caffeine-based life, if you will. German designer Julian Lechner was inspired by other attempts at using coffee grounds to create composite materials when he decided to make the one thing coffee lovers need the most, after the brew: something to sip it from. Lechner created a whole series of espresso cups and saucers from old coffee grounds called Kaffeeform. He spent over five years developing the process, mixing the grounds with sustainably sourced wood and natural glues to create gorgeous accessories for the perfect cup of joe.
As we learned earlier, coffee is really good at eating carbon, which is a big thumbs up from the environment. But how can it help humans on an individual level? Well, it turns out coffee grounds are also really good at eating something else: stink. One innovative Taiwanese clothing company is putting this particular perk to good use, by recycling coffee grounds into yarn that is then turned into odor-busting sportswear. S. Cafe uses a special process to remove all the oils and distinct aroma from used coffee grounds rescued on their way to the landfill. And, as an added bonus, the coffee-borne cloth is also fast-drying and protects wearers against UV rays, so it’s perfect for outdoor adventures in the heat.
So, next time you head to the garbage can to empty the coffee maker, give those grounds a second look. You might be able to give them an entirely new life after they’ve finished perking up yours.