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Flavia was sick of coffee cup waste, so now she's planting seeds of change

Driven by a desire to minimise the planet’s waste, Flavia Guardia, a former international student from Argentina, founded a start-up business to convert disposable coffee cups into seed germination pods.

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In the regional city of Horsham, 300 kilometres west of Melbourne, Argentine immigrant Flavia Guardia is making a living by recycling disposable coffee cups, with an aim to do her part to reduce the planet’s waste.

The 38-year-old formed Eco Enviro Concepts in Melbourne in 2017 which manufactures artisanal seed germination pods made from cups that she collects from waste bins.

Once created, she sells them at farmers’ markets on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 

Her passion sees her travel hundreds of kilometres each week across Victoria and South Australia where she rubs shoulders with people from all walks of life. 

 Why disposable coffee cups? 

“The quality of the paper is very high, and the cellulose is of very good quality,” she tells SBS Spanish.

“It helps the roots of the plants when they are growing and maintain moisture.”

The designer manufactures germination pods for children in the shape of dinosaurs and kangaroos, as well as small pods called ‘ecopunnets’ designed for people who live in small spaces.

Guardia is also developing a new product for nurseries and farmers inspired by the traditional jiffy pots which are made of sphagnum moss and wood pulp, that can be inserted directly into the soil together with the plant. 

Her goal is to reduce plastic use, as they frequently end up in landfills. 

“Generally, when you go to farmers’ markets, seedlings come in plastic and then you have to transplant them to the ground.

“With these ecopunnets people can do everything in one step since the material is completely transformed into compost.” 

Her business carries the motto, “we make rubbish disappear” because she says her concept is to rescue all of the materials that come from a coffee cup so that they don’t end up as garbage. 

“We use almost 100 per cent of a [coffee cup],” Guardia explains.

Only the lining that covers the interior and the lid are unusable to manufacture her products, despite the fact they are made from biodegradable materials. These materials, which comprise 10 per cent of every cup, are donated to people who use them for 3D printing.

The former international student moved to Horsham in 2019 after securing employment. But when her work contract ended, she realised that the city was the ideal place to launch her business, which she had been developing for years.

She says the concept was inspired by Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001.  

“[At that time] in Argentina there was a strong movement called ‘cartoneros’ (cardboard hunters). They separated the garbage and sold the material.

“I had a friend who worked in an office and all she did was take out bags and bags of empty coffee cups, 300 per week for an office of about 50 people. 

“So, I started to investigate the composition of the cups to see what material could be recovered.” 

Her skills as a textile designer and the knowledge she gained from small business start-up courses were complemented by the skills of her partner, a Horsham local with an industrial background, who helped bring her idea to fruition. 

To create the seed germinators, she works from her home with a special machine designed by her partner that allows her to separate the plastics from paper. 

“I started researching the composition of the [disposable coffee] cup to see what materials could be recovered. 

“My house is a production line … with machines, samples, and materials that we collect … we are always testing something,” Guardia says.

She takes advantage of living in a rural area with “huge spaces and sheds” that allows her to develop her ideas. 

But she admits the biggest challenge is sourcing the raw material. That is, the very cups needed to make the products because there’s currently no system in Australia to exclusively collect used coffee cups. 

Guardia has partnered with the Horsham City Council, the local hospital, various cafes, and community groups, which have allowed her to set-up special rubbish containers for people to dispose of coffee cups in front of their premises. 

“My partner and I created a replica of a giant coffee cup that has six slots on the top so that people don’t get confused and refrain from throwing other types of garbage in. 

“It has slots to throw the cups in, and a slot to discard the cap and in the middle it has another opening, shaped like a droplet, where the liquid is poured,” as Guardia explains many people don’t finish their coffees and often leave at least three centimetres of liquid. 

But despite the containers’ clear instructions, people still throw some waste incorrectly.

Guardia says she’s used to facing challenges and knows that it takes time for people to change their habits. 

“My clients are the kids who love [the pods] and show care, as well as those over 60, who come to say thank you: ‘Thank you for what you are doing, please continue,’ and that gives me the energy to continue.”

Guardia is also grateful for the efforts of the people of her town who frequently leave boxes and bags of used disposable coffee cups in front of her home.

Source: SBS.COM.AU (BY MARCIA DE LOS SANTOS)

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