Nine Ways to Reuse Paper Coffee Cups

Photo of a woman drinking from a paper coffee cup by emyerson/istockphoto.comAs a New Yorker, the one piece of garbage that I am most likely to acquire and then throw into an overstuffed landfill is a paper coffee cup, with its ubiquitous plastic lid. In the four blocks between my subway stop and the office where I work, there are five coffee shops and two coffee carts. New York City could not survive without coffee. Which business south of 14th Street stayed open during the immediate hours following Hurricane Sandy, when almost everything was closed? Starbucks.

Despite the absolute deliciousness and powerful caffeinated kick that paper cups of takeout coffee offer to people like me, once the coffee has been drained from those cups, garbage remains. Lots of garbage. Billions of takeout coffee cups are thrown away every year. Is there anything you can do with your used paper coffee cups, other than toss them into the rubbish bin?

There are indeed a few ways to upcycle used coffee cups. Rinsing, drying, and carrying the coffee cup home from the office might be a bit much for some folks, but it could be done. If you are so inclined, these nine projects make good use of used paper coffee cups.

Coffee cup planters: Poke holes in the bottom of the cup. Fill the cup with potting soil. Plant a sprouted seed or a cutting that has grown roots in your coffee cup. Place it in on a plate or something to catch the water and dirt that drains through the holes. The cool thing about this is that when you are ready to transplant the plant into the ground, you can transplant the whole thing, cup and all. Learn how to plant seedlings from a gardener in Los Angeles.

Coffee cup cupcakes: You can bake cupcakes in an eight ounce coffee cup. Is it a little gross to bake a cupcake in a used cup? OK, maybe. But I'd like to think that you'd wash the cup well and dry it before baking in it. Also, you're baking these cupcakes at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which should bring the cups and ingredients therein up to the temperature necessary to kill off your disgusting cooties. When in doubt, serve yourself the used cup cupcake.

Pencil cups: You can make a really cute desk organizer by grouping paper cups together on a Lazy Susan. Cups of different sizes make this really pop, as does decorating the cups with Washi tape. You could also decoupage the cups with desk-y images like maps.

Coffee cup sphere lamp: I am going to send you over to Instructables to learn how to make a coffee cup sphere lamp. While you don't need to be a professional electrician to build this lamp, you do need some rudimentary wiring skills. This project might work best for people who already have the wiring in place for a pendant lamp. Anyway, the lamp shade is an orb made of coffee cups, and it looks like something that you'd buy at Design Within Reach for $600. Make it.

Use it as a scoop: Wash and dry your coffee cup, and use it as a scoop for pet food or garden dirt.

Shred it and mix it into your compost: Compost needs a certain amount of dry material. A lot of folks add shredded newspaper, shredded leaves, or sawdust to their compost as dry material. You could always shred your paper coffee cups and add them to the compost as dry matter.

Make a paper cup garland: Holidays call for decorations like paper cup garlands. Clean and dry your coffee cups. Cut them off in the middle. Paint them. Now make two holes in each cup bottom so that they can be strung on twine or heavy thread. So easy, and a fun craft do do with kids.

Paper cup lights: This is a variation on the paper cup garland. Decorate and cut paper cups. Poke one hole in each cup bottom. Grab a string of Christmas lights, and stick each light into the hole in the bottom of the cup. The cups will be like lampshades for each light on the string.

Paper cup gift cups: Wash and dry the cup, and paint or decoupage it. Put a gift inside with, then cover with cellophane and tie with a ribbon. This is probably a lot of work for something that will get thrown away, but it will give you something to take a picture of and post on your crafts blog.

Chaya Kurtz writes for

Updated April 5, 2018.

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