There’s a lot of online chatter among environmentalists — professionals and amateurs alike — about the wasteful nature of K-Cups, those tiny plastic pods for single-serve coffeemakers. Even the inventor of K-Cups thinks they’re a terrible idea in hindsight.
Unfortunately there’s not much we can do about that now — K-Cups are here, and there’s no sign of stopping them. Instead, we can do what we do in any challenging situation: make the best of it.
To keep some of them out of our landfills, why not try reusing K-Cups?
Here are a few creative ways to give your K-Cups a second life as organizers, teaching tools, craft projects and more.
1. Seed Starter
Perhaps the best way you can reuse a K-Cup is to give back to the planet what plastic is taking away: life.
That’s why I love the idea of using the pods as seed starters for plants. Great for novice and veteran vegetable gardeners, as well as botanically curious kids, the whole idea just feels so full-circle.
Emily Cope, a nutrition counselor in Rochester, NY, is a pro at this project. She shared a few tips for anyone who wants to give it a try.
“After I use each K-Cup I allow it to dry, use a Sharpie to label it, peel the top off and remove as much of the grounds as possible,” she explains. “I then add organic potting mix and a seed or two.”
In fact, these little pods are tailor-made seed starters.
“The K-Cup is the perfect vessel to start seeds [in] because it already has a hole in the bottom, which is necessary for soil drainage and the traces of coffee grounds add beneficial ingredients to the soil and can lead to more healthful seedlings. Once the seedling has outgrown the K-Cup, [it] can be replanted in the ground.”
2. Holiday Crafts
K-Cups are great for crafts related to holidays, including Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the kids are out of school and restless around the house, pull out your stockpile of K-Cups along with your other crafting essentials to make a few keepsakes that you’ll treasure for holidays to come.
Cristin Frank, author of the blog Eve of Reduction, likes to make Easter more festive with these dyed-egg holders.
3. Circular Stamp
If you need a perfectly circular stamp, used K-Cups are your best bet. This is particularly great if you want to create a lot of fun faces.
Make many stamps on craft paper and let kids’ imaginations run wild as they bring the circles to life as people, animals, snowmen and other fun options.
4. Paint Cups
Rather than putting paint on one of your dishes or newspaper, use individual pods to separate colors. When you’re finished, you can pour the leftover paint back into the bottle and rinse out the K-Cup for next time.
You can use your leftover pricing dots to solve the puncture-hole-in-the-bottom problem here, too.
5. Teaching Tools
Another fun way to engage kids with used K-Cups is to use them as teaching tools.
Kathy Griffin’s Teaching Strategies (a completely different Kathy Griffin, y’all) provides 10 ways to facilitate common core math and literacy, while Happy Hooligans suggests using the pods as money-sorting cups to help kids learn how to count change.
These are just a couple educational ideas for used K-Cups; you can find more online or come up with some of your own.
6. Minimalist Wreath
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, this stark minimalist wreath made by gluing clean K-Cups together in a circular pattern will help you get into the spirit.
Alternatively, since the cups are white and provide you with a blank canvas, you can make a wreath for any occasion with a bit of decorating — no need to wait until winter.
7. Party Lights
I mentioned the Halloween K-Cups lights earlier, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You can make party lights to brighten up a party with any theme.
It goes without saying that you can create festive twinklers for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas with a touch of creativity, but K-Cup lights also are perfect for smaller events like birthday parties, wedding or baby showers or a nighttime cookout.
Assembly is easy. Just pop individual lights through the hole in the bottom of each used K-Cup, and voila!
8. Marquee Lighting
Because I tend to lean toward industrial design, marquee lighting is a favorite element of mine. The problem, though, is that it can be so darn expensive; quality letters, numbers and symbols start in the $250 range per piece.
If you’re not quite feeling the impulse to fork over that kind of cash, you can make a DIY version using K-Cups. I have to say, too, that this budget hack actually looks pretty decent, and I think it’s perfect as an extremely thoughtful, handmade gift.
What I love best about this genius idea for K-Cupsicles is not that I now have a new way to cool down this summer, but that the portion size is perfect to keep the calorie count in check. Sometimes you just want a little bite of something, and these tidbits of tastiness are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Remember that you’ll want to close the hole in the bottom of the pods with tape or hot glue so the liquid doesn’t seep out. There’s nothing worse than a messy, sticky freezer.
10. Frozen Herbs
Freezing herbs is a good way to preserve your abundance so they don’t rot before you have a chance to use them up; otherwise you’re just wasting money.
Many people lengthen the lifespan of herbs by chopping them up, putting them in ice cube trays, and topping up each “cube” with olive oil.
The same concept applies to K-Cups, however, so you can free up your ice cube trays. To cover up the puncture hole on the bottom of each pod, consider a spot of hot glue or tape.
11. Scoop for Dry Goods
Have trouble getting dry goods, like coffee or sugar, out of the canister without spilling? Tired of keeping a spoon in the canister full time?
Let an empty K-Cup serve as the solution to this age-old problem. Works like a charm.
12. Organizers for Small Items
Small items like hair accessories, sewing and office supplies are just the right fit for empty K-Cups.
Separate your items into individual pods, label them if you’d like, and place them in a handy carousel for easy access.
13. Concrete Candle Holders
I would have never thought of this unusual use for K-Cups, which is why I’m glad I stumbled upon it. What a cool idea if you’re into industrial décor. I’m into that sort of style, so this totally piqued my interest.
To make your own, follow the instruction for the concrete candle craft at Lots DIY.
14. Confetti Poppers
Sure, it’ll be a mess to clean up, but how fun are these confetti poppers made from used K-Cups?!
I should probably put a Dustbuster on my Christmas list in anticipation of New Year’s Eve, and these would be great for a birthday party, too.
15. Jell-O Shots
Yes, this one is for adults only (though, come to think of it, K-Cups would make excellent Jell-O molds for kids).
K-Cups are actually ideal for Jell-O shots because their narrowness makes it easier to remove the Jell-O with your tongue than when using the traditional wide, ramekin-style cups.
However, you’ll need a fast fix for the hole in the bottom of each K-Cup. A tiny piece of Scotch Tape or a stroke of Wite-Out will do, but I prefer the small peel-and-place yard sale pricing dots for their convenience.
Your Turn: What other interesting ways can you reuse K-Cups? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Disclosure: You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked! (But not with K-Cups; we’d go through way too many.)
Mikey Rox is a personal finance expert whose work has been published by more than 100 outlets across the world, including CNN.com, The Huffington Post, Wise Bread, MSN Money, Money Crashers, Avant Credit and Business Insider, among many others. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.