This is one of the most ingenious ideas any human being has ever come up with. Instead of constantly harming the earth nonchalantly, we can actually do the simplest things to protect her. Yes, the earth is a mother.

Americans happen to consume 400 million cups of coffee on a daily basis [1]. Disposable coffee cups, even when they are paper-based, are not exactly biodegradable. They are also made with the highly toxic Styrofoam and lined with plastic polyethene to make them water-proof, which means they can’t be recycled with paper or cardboard products. On average, it takes 30 years for the conventional disposable coffee cup to decompose completely [2]. 30 years of emitting toxic waste and gases into the atmosphere, water bodies, and landfills. Each medium-sized coffee cup releases about 35g of carbon dioxide (CO­2) into the atmosphere within the estimated 30-year period [3].

Americans discard about 146 billion cups of coffee every year [4]. That’s an insane amount of plastic going into the environment. There’s really no reason why global warming shouldn’t be on the rise when 146 billion cups are emitting 35g of CO2 annually. Only 1% of these cups actually get recycled. Recycling is an important and worthwhile practice to adopt. It doesn’t only conserve our natural resources, but it also protects the natural habitat from toxic waste.

Unfortunately, coffee cups can only be recycled 2-3 times before they are dumped in a landfill somewhere or incinerated.

How about planting the coffee cups and watching them morph into trees and flowers?

We’re not in a Cinderella movie here, but this is as magical as it gets. A California-based environmental protection team called Reduce. Ruse. Grow (RRG) came up with a great way to nurture the earth. They prototyped a biodegradable coffee cup with viable seeds embedded all over the material [3]. If a person chooses to toss the coffee cup anywhere they like, the earth is safe. It will decompose completely within 180 days (6 months), emitting no harmful substances throughout this period. If a person decides to plant the cups, it’s a win-win for the environment. A tree or flowers will be created in no time to reforest the earth and soothe some of the damage we inflict on her daily.

The cup is made of a Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) paper material that’s compost certified. PCW is paper that has already been used by consumers (jotters, newspapers, envelopes, etc). It will then be been recycled and reused for the production of new products.  The RRG team collects the fibers from recycling centers. Normally, the PCW would have been unsuitable and extremely rough for reuse in new packaging products. The team took these and turned them into firm, water-proof disposable cups for hot coffee.

The coffee cups were designed and invented by Alex Henige and assembled by Kickstarter in San Louis Obispo, California [3]. The paper cup is so biocompatible that it would extract at least 1 ton of carbon dioxide from the environment upon planting. The cup is also laced with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) to replenish nutrients in the soil and aid the germination of the embedded seeds.

Be an earth hero each time you properly dispose of an RRG coffee cup

One beautiful thought put into this cup is that the seeds embedded in each batch are local to a specific region. A cup containing California wildflower seeds would most likely be sold in California. CA cups can also contain North California pine seeds and South California desert plant seeds. The seeds would most likely germinate with 1-4 weeks of cultivation.

In an interview with Bored Panda, Alex says the paper is designed in such a way that the heat from the coffee will not damage the seeds [5].

The liner, as well as the paper, absorbs a lot of the heat allowing the seeds to not be affected directly,” he said. We do know that there are a handful of seeds that will make it no problem, due to the nature in which they are meant for in the wild, very hardy and durable. However, with a majority of the seeds, it will take time to really lock in the temperatures and times exposed to these temps in order to all operate and germinate properly.”

Soak the cups in water for five minutes before cultivating.

The team intends to provide RRG bins in as many coffee shops across the country as possible. Some consumers may decide to recycle instead of planting. The cups will be brought back to the factories and recycled again.

This idea will go a long way to heal the earth and reduce the prevalence of toxic waste pollution. Coffee shop owners will not only be making a conscious effort to reduce waste in the environment, but they’ll also be encouraging afforestation. Parched and deforested communities can spring back to life if people can take to planting these coffee cups [6]. The idea is incredible, and environmentally conscious persons are more likely to patronize the RRG-cup coffee shops. It’ll be good for business.

Customers planting these cups would be cleansing the earth of excess CO2, reforesting the communities, purifying the air with more oxygen, and exercising themselves while they garden.

It’s a win-win for everyone.


  1. Coffee statistics 2017. Admin. E-Imports.
  2. This is how long it will take for your coffee cup to decompose. Claire Hyland. Evoke. May 31, 2018.
  3. The world’s first plantable coffee cup. Admin. Kickstarter.
  4. BRING YOUR OWN – COFFEE CUPS. Kaycee Bassett. Plantiful Mama. November 28, 2018.
  5. Biodegradable Coffee Cups Embedded With Seeds Grow Into Trees When Thrown Away. Dovas. Bored Panda.
  6. Biodegradable Coffee Cups Embedded With Seeds Grow Into Trees When Thrown Away. Admin. Off-Grid.
  7. Styrofoam debris as a potential carrier of mercury within ecosystems. Bozena Graca et al. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International. September 21, 2013.
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