Upcycle Your K-Cups
After writing about the difficulty of recycling K-Cups and about HiLine Coffee's efforts to "green" our K-Cups, we thought there was still a little something missing. We're aware that good intentions sometimes run into intractable practical concerns, and that even though you might want to recycle used K-Cups, that may not be an option where you live. If you'd like to recycle but can't, and would prefer not to simply toss them in the trash, what's left?
Try upcycling. Unlike recycling, which typically involves breaking down and remanufacturing something for reuse (like melting plastic bottles down for remanufacture as resuable shopping bags), upcycling takes the existing object and attempts to turn it into something more than it had been before, upgrading it in the process. There's a long tradition of this in various art and craft movements, from Duchamp's readymades (which recontextualized bicycle wheels and urinals as art objects) to Schwitters' Merz collages or Tatlin's Constructions. Even quilting, which repurposes scrap fabric and cast-offs, is a form of upcycling.
In more recent times, as the environmental impact of all the waste generated by all the stuff we use has given new life and new currency to the idea. The Paraguayan Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura has fashioned an entire orchestra's worth of instruments from discarded materials, while websites from Pinterest to Etsy are stuffed to the gills with upcycled goods. If recycling is a cradle-to-grave process, upcycling is cradle-to-cradle, with old things made new through modification and creativity. So why not upcycle K-Cups? There are a few options that work even if you're all thumbs:
Craft Supply Holders: If you work with smaller items -- sewing needles, pins, seed beads, and the like -- K-Cups can be a handy way to keep them stored and sorted.
Office Supply Holders: Paperclips, thumbtacks and pushpins have a tendency to end up in the strangest places. You can corral them in K-Cups to keep them organized.
Mix Small Batches of Paint: Seal the small hole at the bottom of the K-Cup with waterproof epoxy or hot glue and it can be used to mix hobby and crafting paints (just make sure that the paint's base or the solvents you're using won't destroy or degrade the plastic).
Seed Starters: K-cups are a good size to sprout seeds for your garden, requiring nothing more than a bit of soil and a handful of seeds. This is one instance where the hole at the bottom of the cup comes in handy, since there's less of a chance of overwatering. We have more links below for upcycling ideas, but they come with a caveat (and they're a reason we haven't included certain projects here): any upcycling project that involves K-Cups and food should be approached with caution. While the plastic in the K-Cups meets FDA standards for food use, the holes in the cups need to be plugged with something, and that something should itself be non-toxic and food grade. Food grade adhesives are commercially available but don't come cheap; if you're thinking of using masking tape or clear plastic tape like Scotch Tape, it's a good idea to contact the manufacturer and make sure it's safe. If your K-Cups can't go in the recycling bin, that doesn't mean they have to end up in a landfill. With a bit of creativity, they can have a productive second life around the house.