Your morning cup of coffee: delicious, life affirming, essential and…not so sustainable. While we look forward to that first sip every day, we admit that it’s a less than eco-friendly indulgence. And it’s not just because of the coated-paper cups we toss in the bin without a second thought. From the used up grounds to heat protectant cardboard sleeves, the coffee to-go industry produces an astonishing amount of waste on a daily basis—the UK alone goes through approximately 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups per year. We went out to find designers that are fighting back, challenging us to lessen the impact of our caffeine-habit on the environment.
While reusable coffee thermoses aren’t new, we’re more used to seeing them tucked into car cup holders than being toted around to hip cafes. Berlin-based company Just Swap It wants to change that. They’ve designed a reusable cup made from bamboo and resin, which comes in two barista-approved sizes (cappuccino and latte). The cup itself is minimal, with a bright lid and band to prevent spillage, plus small logo. Except for the color of the lid, it could be mistaken for a regular coffee cup. It’s this similarity that makes the cup a compelling alternative paper. Unlike other reusable cups, Just Swap It allows the user to continue to appear as if they are drinking coffee from a trendy café, even if they brew their coffee at home. It’s the cup’s ability to allow drinkers to identify visually with the disposable cup tribe that makes Just Swap It a compelling alternative paper.
Most coffee drinkers will acknowledge that disposable cups are wasteful, but they’re less likely to point to the paper sleeve as a needless source of refuse. But Freedom Sleeve wants to raise awareness. The project, which is currently crowdfunding on IndieGoGo, bets that getting people to switch from paper to plastic sleeves will be an easier change than converting people from paper to plastic cups. Freedom sleeve come in a variety of colors and has cut outs that resemble a smiling face. And unlike a coffee mug that you’ll have to lug around all day, the rubber sleeve can be shoved in your bag or rolled up on your backpack strap for easy portability. While it doesn’t have the same invisibility as the Just Swap It, it’s an easy entry point for people to start making their coffee habit just that bit more sustainable.
Of course, we don’t only make excess waste when we buy coffee to-go from cafes—we can make just as much waste tossing away coffee grounds when we brew it at home. While there are plenty of tutorials that will teach you how to repurpose these grounds into soap or garden fertilizer, we’re fans of the Huskee Cup, a coffee cup made from compressed coffee grounds. Created by a Sydney-based designer, the Huskee cup recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, earning over $100,000. While we’d applaud the company’s efforts at sustainability, it’s the sleek, minimal design that makes us want to buy a set for us and all our friends. When compressed, the coffee grounds form an inky black-brown color with a pleasantly gritty appearance. The slightly ribbed outer adds visual contrast, while the smoother saucer imbues it with a touch of elegance. Not only is it designed beautifully, the grounds also act as an insulator, meaning you won’t burn your hands when gripping a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and that your beverage will stay warmer longer. If we can create this wonder from used coffee grounds, what other innovations does the waste bin hold?
The coffee industry is far from sustainable, but there are plenty of designers creating innovations to make our daily dose an eco-friendly indulgence. Not only do these innovations transform common products into something enviably gorgeous, they also challenge us to think about food design in a new way. From the obvious-but-overlooked to the surprisingly gorgeous, these products offer a new way to look at coffee drinking.