Americans throw away more than 146 billion coffee cups every year, says Alex Henige, a senior in the landscape architecture program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That number may seem low, but with no end in sight to the nation’s coffee addiction, Henige has a plan to take it down even lower—and plant trees in the process.
For his senior project, which Henige has turned into a Kickstarter campaign, he is developing “The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup,” which turns a beverage container into a seed packet. The plantable coffee cups, made with fibers from local recycling centers, are embedded with an assortment of California native seeds. In his scheme, their first lives as cups would end one of three ways: The cups could be soaked in water for five minutes and planted in the ground; they could be collected in a special container for use at nearby reforestation sites; or they could be thrown away and would biodegrade within six months or so.
Henige was part of the team that won the 2014 ASLA Student Award of Excellence in Community Service for work on the Ratang Bana AIDS Orphanage Playscape in South Africa. On that trip, he saw the potential for a dual-purpose product. “They don’t have proper disposal techniques over there,” he says, “so what if we had a product that can benefit the communities by dissolving the waste?”
At this point, the Kickstarter prototype is for the California region, and there are still many tests to complete, such as putting the seeds through the manufacturing process to see whether they can germinate afterward. If they can, he will put the cups in consumers’ hands and monitor usage patterns. “If they’re throwing them in urban environments, then we need certain species” that wouldn’t hurt ecologically, Henige says. “If there are more people who are actually throwing them into our containers where we can collect them, then, okay, these people actually want us to use this product for reforestation.”
For more information, visit “The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup” Kickstarter, running now until March 14.
Credit: Courtesy Alex Henige.