Circular Coffee Community x Upcycle your coffee waste

jun 24, 2022

Last week, we held our second Circular Coffee Community online event. We heard inspiring stories of a purpose-driven start-up (Kaffe Bueno) and an established furniture company that added a cause to their business case (mater).

But what drives companies like Kaffe Bueno and mater wanting to make a change?
It all starts with being curious—curious about the things surrounding us and start wondering how and why it is like it is.

Alejandro Franco told about how he remembered growing up as a Colombian kid getting coffee grounds on his wounds, but when he moved to London, it was very unusual to use coffee like that. He started wondering why so and realized the tremendous untapped potential of coffee.

When realizing the opportunities coffee has, it seems like a line of potential in front of you waiting to be developed, and it would be stupid not to catch it.

Practicalities of collecting coffee grounds/coffee waste
There is little doubt that we are wasting potential. But why is an upcycling coffee waste not common practice, both at the coffee pulp on farm but also the spent coffee grounds in cafés?

Coffee waste is messy: Both coffee pulp on farms and spent coffee grounds at cafés are wet, smelly, and start decomposing quite quickly. The waste is either distributed across smallholder farms in remote areas or to coffee consumers around the globe. This makes the collection very challenging and costly. There is simply no business case (yet).

Waste is everywhere – Cross-sector collaboration and value networks can help here. Bio-bean from the UK made the experience that collection can be arranged with local waste collectors that collect other high-value materials (e.g., glass and cardboard). In addition, it is worth starting with outlets where a lot of coffee waste occurs. In some producer countries, local washing stations are common. Therefore the pulp is collected in one place. Similarly, there are heavy consumers, such as large hotels or office buildings, and companies that produce instant coffee or cold brew. We also learned that it is easier to work with café chains, as the collection process can be integrated in their work procedures. Thus the managers can ensure implementation, despite changing baristas.

Waste is moist and smelly – Whether mold is a problem depends on the final application. Bio-bean aims to process the waste within a month. Coffee waste can be smelly. Mater has solved this issue by treating their design furniture in ozone chambers.

There is no such thing as waste – Don’t stick to the lowest hanging fruits. Connecting Grounds believes in adhering to the top of the waste hierarchy. “What can be eaten should be eaten,” they explained.

The good news is that more innovative businesses have started to emerge, and awareness is rising, too. Wholesale and retail are asking for solutions and are willing to form an active part. Löfbergs and other participants observe this shift, which is highly motivating.