1,000 Useless Mugs - Let's Keep them out of the Landfill
December 12, 2007 2:57 PM   Subscribe

The org I work for has 1000 coffee mugs we can't use. What can we do with them to keep them out of a landfill?

We're working with a company to do coffee mugs with our logo and a cartoon on them. Before we approved a proof, they jumped the gun and produced a 1,000 of them and sent them to us. The boss doesn't want them, and the company has taken full responsibility for the error so we're not being charged for them. I want to make use of the mugs and not just throw them away BUT we can't just start giving them out to people because they have a design that the boss doesn't want seen widely. So, what can I do with them other than throwing them away? What's a green, yet politically appropriate (within the confines of my org/boss) thing to do? The boss is not particularly environmentally aware and he doesn't have to know about it. It's better if he doesn't know, but I also don't want to take any chances (like giving them to the homeless and then months later him seeing a homeless person using it to ask for spare change [ok a ridiculous example, but you get the idea]).

So, hive mind - any ideas? Thank you in advance.
posted by nomad73 to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you talk to the company who made them, and see if there is some kind of solvent which would take the design off them? Then you could donate the blank mugs to any number of places.
posted by bink at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2007

Perhaps a food kitchen/shelter could use them?
posted by R. Mutt at 3:03 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Freecycle.org? Craigslist?
posted by tristeza at 3:04 PM on December 12, 2007

I'll take 'em!

...Or one or two...
posted by billypilgrim at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2007

My uncle used to have a ceramics shop. When he had cases like this he gave them out to friends and family. He also reused same as tests for new techniques, glazes, etc....

Our friends and family did end up with a billion Support the Troops mugs for many years after the first gulf war when a guy did not pick up his paid for order after the ground was was finished in 100 hours.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:07 PM on December 12, 2007

Or print over the design with a solid color before donating them.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that, if you're going to use them for anything worthwhile, people are going to see the design on them.

But if you donate them to, say, needy people in Africa, do you think your boss would still care? (Granted, coffee mugs probably rank low on the list of things they need, but I digress.)

I suppose you could crush them and use them for something... Maybe at the bottom of flower pots in lieu of stones? But that seems kind of ludicrous.
posted by fogster at 3:09 PM on December 12, 2007

Oh, as an aside, they make good pencil cups. Although the question of "What should I do with 1,000 pencil cups with a design my boss doesn't want seen" isn't much easier to answer.
posted by fogster at 3:11 PM on December 12, 2007

There's gotta be something you can make out of them... like a doggie igloo or something.

Absent that, there's gotta be something you can make out of the smashed up bits of a thousand mugs...
posted by muscat at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2007

Are the coffee mugs ceramic? You might be able to give them to an art school or community organization or artist offering instruction on making mosaics. They could probably tell you if the ceramic is appropriate for their uses. This way, the mugs could literally be destroyed but still turned into something else.
posted by onoclea at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2007

What does the mug company do with all their rejects?

At least mugs are a completely benign thing to stick in a landfill. I wouldn't worry about it too much. With the waste this planet's economy produces daily, this is insignificant.
posted by Camofrog at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

can they be donated to an out of town charity? Is anybody a member of a religous group that does mission work? All could be done with the bosses permission and you wouldn't have to sneak around.
posted by Megafly at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2007

Ask the company if they have a use for them.

If they don't, give them to a food kitchen FAR FAR AWAY.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 3:27 PM on December 12, 2007

This is a list of recycling facilities in California that accept ceramics, obtained by searching Google for "ceramic recycling." I'm sure someone with better googling skillz can find facilities closer to you.
posted by desjardins at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2007

Following on onoclea's comment, Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia has made tremendous murals and sculptures out of tiles, mirrors, and other odds and ends. Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is an organization that attempts to promote and preserve these works. Perhaps they would be willing to take in your cups?
posted by zachxman at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ceramic and air are good insulators. I bet that you could build a doghouse out of them.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:57 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Due to the design it seems unlikely you'll be able to reuse the mugs. I can see crushed ceramic being used in some kind of art or building project, perhaps. Otherwise, take it to a recycler like desjardins mentions. Perhaps ask the company that makes the mugs what they do with their waste stock. And if there is a cost of disposal, perhaps you should bill them for it. Or maybe the producer will accept them back from you. In fact, I bet if you just shipped them back to the producer that would be the end of that.

Think twice before donating to the "needy in Africa". Three main reasons:
1. Energy costs of transport and administration.
2. No ceramic recycling opportunities there, so they'll inevitably be landfilled anyway.
3. Cheap unwanted western goods undercut local producers.
(I know that was a throwaway comment and not a serious suggestion, but I think this is a good point to bring up. This argument holds for a lot of things, not just ceramics.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:15 PM on December 12, 2007

1000 beautiful potted plants?
posted by bitteroldman at 4:50 PM on December 12, 2007

Leave them outside your house with a "free" sign.
posted by MiffyCLB at 5:23 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

The mugs could be broken and the pieces used in the bottom of planters as drainage instead of stones.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2007

Ship them to me and I'll sell them at our "thrift" store, which benefits a local NPO. The whole process would, of course, be tax deductible.
posted by TomMelee at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2007

On second thought I have been googling around out of curiosity and I can't find out conclusively if it is possible to recycle ceramics. For example the Boulder, CO "center for hard to recycle materials (CHARM)" recently started taking porcelain bathroom fixtures, but doesn't take plates and cups. The list of ceramic recyclers linked above seems to favor porcelain fixtures as well with no mention of plates and cups. There is probably something in the material that makes it less useful as an aggregate. This leads me to suggest that even if you did return them to the producer, the producer would likely throw them away. Unless, however, the design can be removed, in which case the company itself can probably reuse them, printing a new design on the mug. It is worth asking the producer.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:16 PM on December 12, 2007

ideally you want them to end up in people's homes, i guess, not in public where your boss might find them, or one of his friends will remark on seeing them.

i'd consider driving the mugs to a low income or tenement type area fairly far away from your office. leave boxes of them open near to apartment buildings, with a handwritten sign saying "free mugs!". do a few trips of this sort, getting rid of 100 or so mugs each time. families will snatch them up, take them inside, wash them suspisciously, then use them happily for years. and your boss will never visit them & find out.
posted by twistofrhyme at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2007

Pen/pencil holders for everyone's desk in the office :-)
posted by sandra_s at 6:54 PM on December 12, 2007

Use them as a way to relieve stress, and "do some team building" at work. Find a large cement wall outside somewhere where you can make a mess. Collect all your stressed out friends (or enemies) at work. Line up against the wall, and throw those mugs at the wall with all your strength. Enjoy the destruction, and the joy of making noise and a mess. You'll have tons of fun, and relieve tons of stress. (Trust me - my roommates and I did this with dishes we no longer wanted when we were moving out.) At the end of the exercise, sweep up. Next week post the same question, replacing "mugs" with "shattered mug pieces". Or just throw them out.

I'm not advocating filling up the landfill any more than necessary, but lets face it - eventually they will end up there at some point in time, either as a single large collection in one landfill, or piece by piece to landfills across the world for the next 20 years. If you find you can't use them to better society as a whole (soup kitchens, goodwill, etc), you might as well have some fun!
posted by cgg at 7:24 PM on December 12, 2007

if I recall correctly ceramic can be busted up fine and used as filler for cheap ceramic projects, esp in beginner ceramic classes (grog, is the term I think). You may ask around at pottery studios and see if they have ideas or can use them
posted by edgeways at 9:41 PM on December 12, 2007

Best answer: Offer 'em to a local shooting club, as targets.
posted by paulsc at 11:28 PM on December 12, 2007

It's not right (and if you really don't care about ethics, then: it's not safe for your job) to directly go against your boss's wishes behind his back.

If he doesn't want the design out in the world, the mugs can't be given to strangers (even in "a low income or tenement type area" [sheesh]). There are a lot of good suggestions here about methods of destruction that turn the mugs into something useful.
posted by sparrows at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great, creative suggestions. I think the best are:

a) destroy them/have them destroyed for target shooting or for use as ceramic art/pottery
b) try to get the logo off somehow and reuse/donate as mugs
c) throw them in the sea

I'm also going to look into NYC recycling to see if they would be accepted. Thanks again. Much appreciated.
posted by nomad73 at 12:20 PM on December 13, 2007

Don't throw them into the sea. That's litter. And Bad For The Environment.
posted by Lizc at 4:29 PM on December 13, 2007

With a few friends and a little spare space, start tree seeds in them, then transfer the seedlings to cheap paper bags and give them to people (or neighborhood/playground groups) to plant. Let's say your average coffee cup is about 4" in diameter, and 1,000 would fit in a grid of 32x32. To use them all at once, you'd need an area of about eleven square feet. It doesn't get rid of the mugs, but it does sort of make up for their existence.
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2007

Response by poster: ok, the throw them into the sea idea is out. i have a shooting club that might be interested in them. Great suggestion I never would have thought of myself. Thanks.
posted by nomad73 at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2007

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