A Complete Guide for Sustainable Coffee Waste Recycling

Learn some effective coffee waste management techniques and implement them at your home

coffee waste

Coffee is a day-to-day product used in almost every household. Every day, around 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world. Coffee is a major market as it is a multibillion-dollar enterprise on a worldwide scale. However, one may not realize the amount of waste and by-products that are a result of the processes that lead to coffee production.

The outcome of brewing coffee is used coffee grounds, which are the ultimate product following the manufacture of coffee. Used coffee grounds are normally considered waste and are discarded or composted.

Coffee Waste Statistics

Following are some interesting coffee waste statistics that you need to take a look at:

According to sustainability researcher Gunter Pauli, global coffee production generates more than 23 million tons of trash every year, from the pulp of fresh coffee cherries to the packing of roasted beans. Used coffee grounds that we put in the garbage after each fresh brew, are the most prominent indication of this waste at the consumer end of the supply chain (Pike, 2018). Only 0.2 percent of a coffee bean is used to brew a cup of coffee, with the rest 99.8% going to waste.

The coffee industry has a significant environmental impact. Every step of the coffee supply chain utilizes energy in some way, from growing to processing to transportation and roasting, and hence has its carbon footprint.

Coffee drinking produces used coffee grounds, which are an unavoidable by-product. While many of us believe it is acceptable to throw out coffee grinds with other organic garbage, this is not always the case. When these used coffee grounds along with other coffee waste are disposed of in landfills, they can have a substantial environmental impact. As most coffee-growing locations are also home to some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, the risk of catastrophic harm is high. Therefore, coffee waste management is becoming a serious issue to ensure a sustainable future.

How is Coffee Made?

Coffee is generally grown at high elevations in tropical and subtropical climates. Coffee beans do not originate from the ground as a dark, roasted bean ready for grinding and brewing. They are planted and grown into trees that yield cherry-like fruits in 3-4 years. The seeds for coffee are found within the fruits. When the cherries are ripe, harvesters remove the pulp and dry the beans (Yune, 2019).

Coffee plant cultivation can harm the environment. To meet the growing demand for coffee, farmers and corporations have embraced harmful techniques that can affect both the coffee plants and the surrounding ecology. To function, coffee farms also require large amounts of water. The majority of coffee is cultivated in the shade, under tree canopies, and amid a variety of other plants. But due to increased market demand, farmers have switched away from traditional coffee-producing methods and toward sun-grown agricultural practices.

Plantations have been deforesting huge regions to “maximize sun exposure” for their coffee plants during the previous few decades. Farmers are also concentrating on cultivating only one type of plant, potentially putting their entire harvest in danger of disease. Sun-grown coffee produces the maximum output, but it does so at the expense of plant variety, which supports a wide range of insects and animals. This has a detrimental influence on the region’s biodiversity and creates other environmental problems. Sun-grown coffee has a short-term benefit but is harmful to the environment.

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How is Coffee Waste Harmful to the Environment?

The vast majority of old coffee is discarded without being sorted or processed. It often ends up in landfills after being discarded. The coffee grounds take at least three months to decompose in the landfill’s anaerobic environment.

Coffee grounds include oils and other substances that increase the acidity of the soil. This produces acidic leachate (liquid) in landfills, which can harm the soil around. When sun-grown procedures are preferred over traditional growth methods, soil quality declines eventually. The removal of shade can have a substantial influence on different soil quality indicators, with greater rates of erosion happening on restored coffee farms with less vegetation.

Coffee waste degradation in landfills also produces greenhouse gases. These gases have additional environmental consequences and contribute to climate change.

Since specific compounds included in dumped coffee grounds can induce DNA damage and present toxicity to aquatic organisms, coffee waste discarded in the environment may constitute a risk to human and environmental health. A severe risk is imposed on the factory’s surrounding environment during the operations that are carried out in factories when producing coffee grounds.

Coffee waste poses many significant problems to the environment, like water pollution because of the untreated coffee waste to waste management issues and toxic gases emissions such as methane due to the dumping of large amounts of coffee waste in landfills.

Coffee-producing factories plant and grow cherries in their locality, which are used to store the beans. The coffee cherries are harvested, de-pulped, fermented, and just the bean remains. The separation of the beans from the coffee cherries produces massive amounts of trash in the form of pulp, residual debris, and parchment.

The Sustainable Potential of Coffee Waste

The primary question that comes to all of our minds is what to do with coffee waste?

There are many profitable characteristics and properties of coffee grounds that are retained even after their use. Coffee grounds are kept out of landfills when they are recycled. This technique not only improves the environment but also benefits the air.

When unwanted coffee grounds are thrown away, they are compressed into a space that is devoid of oxygen. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, when compostable materials are placed under certain circumstances, their breakdown produces methane gas, the second most frequent greenhouse gas.

However, this characteristic of used coffee grounds has great potential to control the release of methane which can be extremely beneficial for the environment. Using potassium hydroxide to heat discarded coffee grounds generates a new material with a huge surface area and the capacity to retain significant amounts of methane. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide in terms of heat. The substance produced from the spent grounds is stable and maintains methane when restored to ambient temperature, indicating that it may be utilized for long-term storage of greenhouse gases that are a result of various industrial processes.

How to use coffee grounds as fertilizer?

Repurposing coffee trash into plant fertilizer is another efficient, healthy, and practical approach to reuse it. Coffee grinds are high in nitrogen and repel a variety of pests in the garden. They can even be used to make “barriers” that insects and reptiles cannot get past. Utilized grounds can also improve the quality of your garden’s soil, and they can be used over and over again without reducing their effectiveness. Properties of coffee grinds provide a range of potentially profitable features for businesses and individuals.

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Sustainable businesses and enterprises based on coffee waste products

Innovative and creative pioneers who are environmentally conscious entrepreneurs, and established commercial enterprises from all over the globe have sought to make a livelihood by creating valuable items from coffee waste. They have developed products that can recycle coffee waste and make the coffee industry a greener industry with reduced amounts of waste.

In recent years, a slew of firms has sprung up that have begun to start effective coffee waste management utilizing the waste by employing both spent grounds and wasted coffee cherry pulp to generate new goods such as paper, ink, 3D printer filament, charcoal, fabrics, and a diversity of other products. Some examples of coffee waste start-ups employing coffee waste are as follows:

1) Bio Bean

Bio-bean is a London-based company that has received a lot of attention from the media and investors for its proposal to collect discarded coffee grounds from the city’s cafes and turn them into biofuels. It is the world’s first company to industrialize this process, and it has successfully established a 20,000-square-foot factory in London designed to process 50,000 metric tons of used coffee grounds per year which is roughly one-tenth of the discarded coffee waste from all the coffee consumed in the United Kingdom. Waste coffee that is processed here is converted into biodiesel, barbeque coals, and biomass pellets at the plant.

2) Kaffeeform

While pursuing his studies in Italy, Julian Lechner, a product designer, questioned what happened to all the coffee grounds after they were consumed. Julian then went on to develop a company that makes unique, long-lasting goods like espresso and cappuccino cups out of wasted coffee grounds and renewable raw materials.

3) Singtex

Singtex holds a patent in Taiwan for a method of producing yarns from coffee waste. The properties of coffee grounds are maintained and transmitted to the cloth that is created as a result of this procedure. As a consequence, textiles created with this cutting-edge technology have natural anti-odor properties, dry faster than cotton, and provide superior UV protection than cotton. Furthermore, the cloth is cool to the touch and can reduce skin temperature. This technique is used to make a wide range of items, including shirts, beds, and footwear. The coffee oil which is derived from coffee grinds is then utilized in cosmetics and clothes.

4) Smile Plastics

Adam Fairweather launched a firm in the United Kingdom that makes stylish office furniture out of wasted coffee grounds and post-consumer recycled plastic. Because of the mat finish, the materials created with this method are extremely durable, waterproof, and scratch-resistant, and they do not need to be sanded or finished.

Coffee Waste Recycling at Home

It is a famous saying that all change starts at home. We already know that millions of people consume coffee daily so it is fair to say that even if half of these consumers began to recycle their coffee waste, we would be seeing a drastic change concerning sustainability in the coffee industry and the environment.

There are numerous ways to reuse coffee waste at home. At home, used coffee grounds can be reused and recycled for a variety of things. One can utilize used coffee grounds by employing them efficiently in arts & crafts, pet care, beauty, kitchen, gardening, and the list will go on.

The following uses of coffee waste are eco-friendly as they are completely non-toxic, and they can be easily adapted by individuals in the comfort of their homes.

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1) Use coffee waste in arts and crafts

  • Used coffee grounds may be used as a natural dye. Many arts and crafts projects benefit from the use of used coffee grounds as a stain.
  • A few leftover coffee grounds, flour, salt, and parchment paper may also be used to make homemade fossils. A simple combination produces mouldable dough that may be shaped and stamped.

2) Using coffee waste for pet care

  • After bathing your dog, use a handful of used coffee grounds to scrub him down and rinse. The used coffee grounds stimulate the skin and keep fleas away from the animals.

3) Using coffee waste for beauty purposes

  • Discarded coffee grounds can be used as a natural exfoliators due to their properties. Anti-inflammatory qualities have long been recognized to exist in coffee grounds. They assist in the creation of a biodegradable scrub that is free of the toxic plastic found in most store-bought products. To prepare a simple coffee scrub at home, combine equal parts used, dry coffee grounds and coconut oil in a paste.
  • Used coffee grounds can also be used as a hair reviver, reviving the hair from the damage that chemicals in hair products may cause to one’s hair. To revitalize dull hair, combine coffee grounds, honey, and olive oil.

4) Making use of discarded coffee grounds in kitchen 

  • Odours are naturally eliminated by coffee grounds. Place a small bowl of the grounds in the back of your fridge to remove any weird odours. Coffee grinds may also be used to remove odours from the skin. After cutting garlic, use a tablespoon of ground coffee on your hands and rinse to remove any odour.
  • Used coffee grounds can also be included in a variety of new recipes and dishes.
  • You may also use coffee grounds to remove food stains from your cookware and restore its lustre. Coffee grinds can be used to boost the “scratchiness” of abrasive kitchen cleansers.

5) Use of discarded coffee grounds in general at home

  • Coffee residue is an excellent fit for properly disposing of medicines. Old medications should not be carelessly thrown away. Old prescriptions can be disguised by placing them in a bag with coffee grounds to keep children and animals from discovering and ingesting them.
  • Coffee residue may be used to keep dust at bay. Sprinkle used coffee grounds in and around your fireplace while they are still moist to keep dust at bay as you clean. 
  • To get rid of the ants. Place used coffee grounds in areas of your home where ants are likely to dwell. Insects are known to avoid coffee.

EDITOR’S NOTE

The shift to sustainability in the environment cannot come from industries alone, it has to begin from consumers. If individuals begin to incline their behavior towards sustainable practices, we will begin to see a transformation in the environment around us.

Products like coffee that are used daily by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe are a great way to begin sustainable practices. They can easily be carried out in small steps and yet have massive and beneficial consequences in the larger picture of sustainability. Once households and industries are aware of the problem and its solution, many will commence following the above-mentioned practices and at the same time come up with new innovative practices and solutions. Using the waste of a single cup of coffee sustainably can go a long way.

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