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5 Inventive Ways to Repurpose Your Grounds

This Earth Month, turn coffee waste into something special.

by Arielle Rebekah | April 28, 2022

We’re all here because we love coffee. Maybe it’s the smell, or the taste, or maybe you’re one of those purely utilitarian coffee drinkers who sips your morning cup purely to feel that euphoric wave of liquid energy flowing through your veins. No matter why you drink coffee, there’s one thing we all surely hate: waste.

Waste?! In this economy? Regrettably, the coffee supply chain produces no shortage of waste products, from cascara (the fruit of the coffee cherry) to the grounds many of us dump in the trash after our morning brew, you’re surely wondering whether there’s a better way. I’m here to reassure you that, by golly, there is! Enjoy this brief list of mighty fun ways to repurpose your personal coffee waste products instead of... gulp... sending them to sit in a landfill for like 1,000 years or something wild like that.

Idea #1: Upcycle your nonrecyclable coffee bags

To start, did you know that a steadily increasing number of coffee companies are packaging coffee using recyclable materials? While you can absolutely upcycle these as well, it’s helpful to know which packaging materials have a built-in second life so you can prioritize giving your nonrecyclable packaging the new adventure it deserves.

Coffee bag artwork has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, making empty bags the perfect candidate for your next art display. If you save up your empty bags for a few months, you can flatten them, lay them out beautifully inside a large frame, and hang them on your wall. Pro-tip: we recommend taping the back of the bags to the inside of the frame so they don’t shift around after hanging.

For all you plant lovers out there, coffee bags can also serve as DIY planters. As many of us are aware (or some of us are just now learning), decorative planters can be wildly pricy. Luckily, you can use your empty bags as a stand-in for smaller plants. Just cut off the top, fill it with some dirt and your plant of choice, and you’re good to go.

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Similarly, who wants to spend over $50 on a glorified state ID holder? Not I! Use scissors and some tape to turn your would-be garbage into a lo-fi wallet. If you want to be extra crafty, you can even make pouches for your IDs, credit cards, and more. Better still, you’ll be rolling in compliments every time you take it out to pay at your local café.

Idea #2: Add some new smells to your bath time

We know you love the smell of coffee. Have you ever sat and worked at a table in your local café, and someone afterwards told you your hair smelled like coffee? Well, imagine making your hair smell like coffee on purpose.

Turns out, using coffee in your hair could have a ton of benefits. From restoring growth, to making your luscious locks even more shiny and lustrous, adding coffee to your hair-care routine is a game-changer. This one is great for those days when there’s an unfortunate volume of tepid leftover coffee in your pot, since many coffee rinse recipes call for brewed coffee.

In addition to hair needs, many of us are plagued with the curse of dead skin. Did you know that coffee can help? Used coffee grounds are a great exfoliator on their own, and if you want to get fancy, you can also turn them into a soap scrub that will clean your body while gently removing dead skin cells. Next time you brew a cup of coffee, add the leftover grounds to a soap scrub. Your miraculously smooth, baby-soft skin will thank you!

And who doesn’t love a scented candle? Manifest your dream of having a home that smells like that morning pot of coffee all day long by combining your used coffee grounds with melted wax, a wick, and any other scents you wish to add.

The list goes on and on. Both coffee grounds and leftover brewed coffees have an abundance of purported beauty uses, including vanquishing of puffy eyes, brightening your skin, tinting your hair, and more. Next time you think about dumping coffee waste, remember that you’re pouring free beauty supplies down the drain and think again. Phew, crisis averted!

Idea #3: Up your crafts game

Coffee can be used for all sorts of crafty purposes.

To start, both used coffee grounds and leftover brewed coffee can be used to paint beautiful, monochrome artwork. Next time you find yourself with leftover coffee in the pot, whip out a paint brush and canvas and let your inner Van Gogh flourish. If using coffee grounds, you’ll want to mix them with water to make a paint-like solution. Some recipes encourage you to create multiple solutions of varying concentrations, thus yielding multiple shades of brown.

You may be shocked to learn you can also turn used coffee grounds into non-toxic clay by adding a few extra common pantry items. Simply mix these ingredients together and create beautiful little trinkets or sculptures to add to your home décor. While it will eventually dry and lock into shape, you can give it a longer shelf life by storing it in a sealed container in the fridge.

If you have kids (or simply wish to unleash your inner child – no judgment!), a variation of this clay recipe will yield semi-realistic dinosaur fossils… Okay, they’re not that realistic, but still fun and the dinos aren’t here to complain!

Idea #4: Grounds for your garden

There is a lot of fun debate about the use of grounds in your garden. Some folks argue that the acidity of coffee will raise your soil pH, which is displeasing to all those persnickety plants that thrive in lower acidity. They maintain that while your root vegetables, blueberries, and azaleas will thank you for your kindness, you’ll want to do some research about the specific needs of your crops before messing with their sweet little microbiome. Others argue that this is only true if using dry coffee grounds, and that used coffee grounds are actually pretty pH neutral—particularly if you give them an extra rinse before adding to your compost pile.

Using coffee grounds as fertilizer requires a little bit of science know-how, but it’s easy enough to learn. Coffee grounds are easily compostable, as are many coffee filters. Grounds add extra nitrogen and caffeine molecules to your compost, both of which are delicacies to many of your favorite plants. However, coffee grounds are considered a green compost material and should always be combined with brown compost material in order to create a balanced pile. When worked into the dirt around your plants, grounds act as fertilizer, adding organic material to the soil which “improves drainage, water retention, and aeration.” As an added bonus, earthworms love it, which aids your soil health further.

Grounds have several other rumored benefits to your garden, such as repelling slugs, snails, and cats, and acting as mulch.

Idea #5: Add some flair to your food

We’re all so used to drinking coffee, perhaps we’ve never considered what a tasty addition it makes to certain foods.

Coffee rubs can be used to add a delectable coffee flavor to meats and vegan foods alike, such as this Coffee Chili-Rubbed Tofu and these easy Coffee-Rubbed Black Bean Beet Burgers.

When added into desserts, coffee adds a bit of an espresso-y kick that provides balance to sweetness and particularly highlights chocolatey flavors, like these Vegan Cashew Espresso Truffles.

The bottom line: there are many uses to often-discarded coffee waste products. While many of us recognize the value in being more eco-friendly, it isn’t always intuitive or fun. By adding some excitement into environmentally conscious practices, it becomes easier to stay engaged and eager to take new steps in the right direction.

While creating second lives for coffee products is one way to do this, please be encouraged to explore this idea further as you work to reduce your carbon footprint and be generally kinder to our planet.