Variety Is The Spice Of Life: Five Interesting Products Made From Coffee Supplies

One of the most common starting points for sustainability conversations are building materials: the ingredients we use to craft where we live and how we move.

To recycle something is to keep valuable materials out of toxic landfills and back into the hands of the people and businesses that need it. You don’t have to be a sustainability expert to know about the viability of recycled cardboard for storage. In fact, one of my earliest school memories was making my own paper out of recycled bits! Things get a little interesting when you see just how many materials can be reused and for what. Since this is a beverage blog (and I put the hook in the title), you can likely guess where this is going.

Coffee is a daily staple. A lifestyle and, for many, a passion. The old coffee grounds, as well as coffee-related supplies, can be a practical ingredient for all sorts of products. Let’s take a look at whether this is mere novelty or an actual change to get excited about.

man with sunglasses

Coffee Sunglasses

Coffee is all I see,” proclaims the bearded hipster, flexing one bicep to make his espresso machine tattoo pour the perfect shot. “You’re not a true drinker unless you can block UV rays with an Arabica blend.”

While this is a mere exaggeration (hopefully), it’s nonetheless pretty impressive how creative you can get once you step outside the box. These sunglasses are made predominantly from coffee grounds, originally cropping up on Kickstarter and catching the eye of many, from the sunlight sensitive to the coffee enthusiast. They’re designed to block broad-spectrum UV rays, are scratch resistant and can come with a prescription. They also smell like coffee. What’s not to love?

…Well. I won’t pretend to be crazy about the design, which leans a little too close to ‘modern mad scientist’ for comfort. Nonetheless, coffee sunglasses are an interesting idea and one I’m not surprised to see enjoying crowdfunding success. While some innovations can be little more than a conversation starter, this has enough practicality to last a buyer a good while. Just don’t be surprised if passerbys expect you to summon lightning on your way to the coffee stand.

I live and blink coffee,” you respond with no small amount of pride, tilting your glasses down to hearken to a certain C.S.I. meme, “Wait until you hear about Robusta LASIK.”

woman jogging

Coffee Shoes

Kickstarter is the place to be for unique creations. Pair your coffee sunglasses with coffee shoes (because they probably won’t match much else).

Breathable and eco-friendly, these coffee shoes by Rens are also waterproof and are light enough to be enjoyed as a casual shoe and an exercise shoe. What really gets me about this, in particular, is how they go beyond novelty and embrace the unique qualities of the material. See, the shoe also boasts an anti-odor design directly attributed to the coffee grounds themselves. The chemicals that are released by coffee trap scent and give you more wiggle room when getting off a sweaty session.

Stylish and simple enough to fit into your average sports store, sustainable coffee shoes are an impressive example on an already impressive list. I used to go to the gym before the world folded in on itself, so I’d probably purchase the pink pair to mildly blur the lines between my career and day-to-day.

chandelier in a cafe

Coffee Light Fixtures

I was going to make a cheesy pun about how coffee lights up my life. Things are hard enough as it is, so I’m going to refrain.

It’s not just coffee grounds that can make for a useful recyclable material, but the products that go into making coffee itself. Take filters, for instance: they’re already on the right side of sustainable by virtue of being paper, with the added bonus of being delicate enough to craft easily. These lovely and rustic light fixtures take used coffee filters and transform them into a light show, suitable for an art gallery opening or the corner of your apartment’s living room.

Not unlike the shoes above, these coffee filter light fixtures go the extra mile to really make the most of the material. The fact they’re used means they have a subtle brown and gold hue that looks positively lovely. If you have any spare time lately, consider giving these a try yourself. Just don’t burn the place down.

used coffee filter

Coffee Filter Masks

The coronavirus has changed how the world looks at day-to-day behavior. It’s also changed how we look at day-to-day materials. What could’ve been trash or a forgotten pile of potential crafts in a closet box are being looked at in a new light.

FOLD is providing DIY masks made out of coffee filters, with a focus on accessibility. These are done in response to the fact many people are without masks to protect themselves, up to and including healthcare workers. These are designed to be easy to make (thanks to coffee being a common daily staple) as well as biodegradable. If you’re already considering a home craft binge, coffee filter masks might be worth picking up for a small safety boost when you can’t avoid going outside.

It’s important to keep in mind that a paper mask is not as effective as a medical grade one (such as the N95) and should be tossed if it becomes wet, as that affects the coffee filter mask’s ability to trap bacterial and viral residue. Social distancing, home disinfecting and handwashing is still essential to reduce risk of infection. A lot of misinformation and well-meaning ideas have been circulating like wildfire lately, so check a trusted resource, such as the CDC, for information regarding safety practices.

paper coffee cup

Coffee Ground Cups

I heard you like coffee, so we added coffee to your coffee cups so you can drink coffee while you drink coffee.”

What better way to round out a list than with the most straightforward example of sustainable coffee creations? These coffee cups by Berlin-based Kaffeeform are made using recycled grounds, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘from the ground up’. Made out of a sustainable composite to keep it firm, they also provide traditional mugs and accessories. I’m considering buying the cappuccino cup myself, though it’ll be a while before I can get my hands on a quality milk frother.

They’re not just practical, they’re gorgeous. They almost look like marble, boasting a deep, rich brown flecked with starry spots. These sustainable coffee cups make just as good of a conversation starter as they do an eco-friendly product (the creators also make it a point to use short, green routes when transporting). Reusable supplies have been rising in popularity over the past several years, from readily available tote bags at grocery stores to ongoing discussion concerning single-usage plastic in the West. I would love to see more like this.

For every good news story in the coffee industry there are three dismal or frustrating ones.

It’s not like there’s an ideal day to talk about issues affecting people’s livelihoods. What’s the barometer of timeliness concerning coffee farmers facing notoriously low pay? What about baristas being put in precarious working conditions, given the rock-and-a-hard-place of going to an infected work environment or being out of a job in a recession? This post is meant to be a spot of cheer and a celebration of ingenuity, both of which are going to be sorely needed moving forward.

Some of these products are creative more in name than function, not quite displacing more widely accepted means of production. Others are close to hitting the mark, matching availability with a low cost. I want to see eco-friendly inventions being circulated through more than just novel convention centers and into the lives of those that need it most. For all that I love reading about these creations, it’s hard not to feel pessimistic when they still can’t break through the mass manufacturing muck. You can only do so much against the entire world, right?

I wonder what inventions we’re going to see over the coming months, and how people’s day-to-day will or won’t be changed as a result.

If you’re in the mood to read more about coffee:

This brief list takes a look at unique coffee brewing methods from around the world, including pouring coffee over cheese or sprinkling in pepper.

Coffee origins are a complex subject, to say the least. Narrow things down (a little) by reading about the delicious, fascinating varieties across Mexico.

I loved The Queen Bean’s piece on coffee and wine’s similarities, particularly regarding ‘terroir’: how the environment affects a crop’s flavor and identity.

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