Reusing K-Cups for Therapeutic Activities

Does your breakroom have a Keurig coffee machine? 

You might even use one to start–or get through–your day.

Your opinion of Keurig coffee may go one of two ways:

  • It’s a great, easy way to get my caffeine fix.
  • What’s happening to all those little cups after they get used?

Now, I’m not a big fan of drawing a line in the sand and dividing people. (Isn’t there enough of that already?) Recreation is an opportunity to bring people together. 

Instead, let’s all get together (with our coffee mugs) and see how we can reuse K-cups to good use for some therapeutic activities.

Reusing K-Cups for Eco-Friendly Activities

We may not solve all the world’s problems by reusing K-cups for activities. But we can do our little part to find new, engaging activities to keep those little plastic cups out of the landfills. And teach a few valuable lessons along the way.

Here’s some good news: Since the end of 2020, 100% of Keurig K-Cup pods have been recyclable. So after you use (and reuse) the cups for activities, many areas allow recycling.

And it’s pretty easy to prep a K-cup for activities and recycling. Just

  • Remove the foil top. 
  • Then take out the coffee grounds and paper filter. (It’s great stuff for a compost pile.) 
  • Rinse it out. Let it dry. 

They are ready for action! 

Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing… 

Therapeutic Activities with Repurposed K-Cups

Mini Containers

Let’s start with the obvious. K-Cups make pretty good tiny containers. 

They can be great for fine motor activities.  For example, sorting coins or beads.

What’s nice about the K-cups is their size. They can also be used to hold paint., so you’re not wasting extra paint while prepping projects.

Wait…

What about the hole in the bottom? After all, that coffee needs a way to escape into your favorite mug.

Solution: Cover the hole using a dab of glue from your trusty hot glue gun. Let it cool, then pour the paint.

When you’re ready to recycle, rub the glue with a bit of rubbing alcohol, give it a minute, and then the glue should peel off. 

Therapeutic Ideas: Sorting games for fine motor skills. Making decisions–like picking paint colors. Pre-packing small items for pre-made craft projects. 

Start Seed 

Another way of reusing K-cups is using them to start seeds. For this, the hole on the bottom is actually helpful. 

Simply fill the cups with potting soil and plant the seeds according to the instructions. Give them water and sunlight and watch them grow.

Place the K-cups on a tray or something that will hold excess water leaking from the bottom of the cups. 

When the seedlings get big enough, plant them in a flower pot or garden. 

Therapeutic Ideas: Lessons about nature, learning responsibility, and how small actions in the present can have big effects in the future.

Card Holder

reused k-cup made into a card holder

Who says adaptive equipment has to be expensive? 

You can use an old K-cup pod to create a card holder for your participants. This is an excellent way to get younger participants or those with trouble holding cards more independent and involved.

Simply cut a slit in the bottom of a K-cup container and about halfway down the sides. (I used an Exacto knife.) Turn it upside down, and the cards should fit in the slit.

You could even have your participants decorate it so they will use and reuse it whenever they want to play cards. 

Here’s a version of one we tried out.

Therapeutic ideas: Teach a new card game (leisure education), practice number recognition, practice decision-making during a card game, and address social skills like taking turns.

Stamp Art

Here’s a quick one I did with my two-year-old son…

Clean out a few K-cups. Then set out some shallow bowls of washable paint–or dab some different color paints on a paper plate. Dip the top of the K-cup in the paint and stamp it on the paper. 

See what creative ideas you can come up with for the circle designs. 

Therapeutic Ideas: You can work on color recognition, creating patterns, and creative expression.

Team Building Activities

Gather a bunch of cups and other items like tape, string, paper, cardboard, or whatever else you have on hand. 

Now challenge your participants to work together to:

  • Build the tallest structure
  • Make an interesting sculpture
  • Create a new game
  • Make a decoration for an upcoming holiday

Set ground rules, a time limit, and watch how repurposed K-cups can create therapeutic, teachable moments.

Therapeutic Ideas: Team building helps teach communication, assertiveness, problem-solving, and many other skills.

Musical Shakers/Guess What’s In Here

Put some items in your K-cups (ones that will make a little noise when shaken), then glue some heavy paper to the top of the cup.  Use it for a musical instrument–this may be better for gentler participants.

Or you can enclose different small items and have the participants try and guess what’s in there. Try recreation-related things like small dice, beads, fishing tackle, guitar picks, and whatever else you can find in your desk drawers or storage cabinets. 

Therapeutic Ideas: Listening skills, music activities, and leisure education.   

Memory/Matching

image of reused k-cups for a memory match game

Memory is a great game to help with cognitive skills. Sometimes, however, the cards are hard for some participants to pick up.

Get a bunch of K-cups and paint the inside of it. Or, if you have stickers that match, put stickers in the bottom of the cups.

Now you have a unique adaptation of a beneficial game by simply reusing k-cups!

Therapeutic Ideas: Use stickers related to activities for leisure ed. Add as a daily activity for memory care. Practice fine motor skills. 

Service Project

Taking apart used K-cups could be an activity in itself. It does require some fairly good fine motor skills to remove the foil and filter from the plastic cups. 

If your facility uses K-cups regularly, set aside a container for the used ones. Once the container gets filled, have interested participants make used K-cups recyclable. 

Therapeutic Ideas: Keep track of the number of plastic cups recycled and the impact that makes. Use this to discuss other community service opportunities to incorporate into leisure time. 

Discussion Questions

Here are a few questions you could ask your participants before, during, or after a recreation therapy session.

How do you feel about reusing something that would otherwise go in a landfill?

What are some ways you can turn old items into fun activities?

Name some other things you can reuse for activities.

How else can we reuse K-cups?

What happens when we start viewing something in a new light (e.g. trash becoming something fun)?

What are some other ways you can help the environment?

The Takeaway

Finding creative ways to reuse and repurpose items for recreation therapy activities benefits everybody. Reusing K-cups is just one way you can do it.

Your ideas help:

  • Reduce your activity budget
  • Provide engaging activities 
  • Give the nod to Mother Earth 

K-cups are a perfect example of turning trash into recreation therapy treasure. 

What are some other things you can repurpose? Comment below with your ideas.

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