These days, there is an environmental stigma attached to every coffee you buy.
According to WWF, the UK is set to throw away a third more coffee cups by 2030, as we’re the second biggest users per person of single-use products. Ouch. But there’s yet another sustainable issue surrounding your caffeine fix: what happens to the leftover grounds.The UK produces 500,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds a year. When disposed of via landfill, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that’s twenty eight times more potent than carbon dioxide.
One guy trying to solve the issue is Arthur Kay. A UCL architecture graduate, he founded tech start-up bio-bean after realising that one of the biggest keys to efficiently running a coffee shop is minimising coffee ground waste.
In the last four years, the London-based company have launched the world’s first coffee ground recycling centre in Cambridgeshire, where the grounds are developed into clean biofuel and then processed into super sustainable sources of energy.
At bio-bean, grounds are collected from coffee shops and train stations around the country. These are transported to their HQ and broken down into super sustainable energy sources.
For instance, their biofuel pellets are a fuel alternative for industrial boilers, and the latest exciting development is a range of coffee logs for burning in stoves and chimineas. Because coffee is more calorific than wood, they also burn for longer.
Priced at £9.99 for a bag of 16, the coffee logs are available from places like Abel & Cole and Ocado. “We don’t think sustainability should cost the Earth, quite literally,” Tom Bage, head of communications at the business tells us.
Following in the steps of indie coffee shops, huge brands and companies are increasingly getting in on the coffee recycling action. Last year, bio-bean began collecting Costa’s coffee waste from 800 of their coffee shops. They dispose of 3,000 tonnes of Costa’s waste coffee grounds each year, saving 360 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
“We love that we work with different coffee companies, big and small. Costa have been a fantastic support – we are collecting and recycling 75 million cups of their coffee a year,” Tom says.
“There are so many reasons for companies to recycle their coffee grounds, but the key ones are to save money and to cut carbon. We take it away as cheaply as we can, immediately cutting the carbon footprint.”
Every stage of the process is kept as carbon-neutral as possible, including the methods used to transport the coffee grounds to bio-bean HQ. “We work with waste management companies, who collect the coffee grounds for us in the most carbon efficient way that we can manage. An important thing is keeping the lowest amount of trucks on the road as possible,” Tom says.
Smart cookies that they are, bio-bean have targeted the country’s most concentrated areas of coffee drinkers: London’s offices and train stations. One of their first partnerships was with Network Rail trains, ensuring that the waste grounds from the all-important morning commute latte is disposed of sustainably.
“We collect grounds from all cafés on the Canary Wharf estate and have plans to expand into the offices,” Tom says. This summer, founder Arthur Kay even spoke of the possibility of London’s red buses running on coffee biofuel in the future.
The possibility of the country’s energy being partially run by our recycled coffee grounds is an exciting concept, and one that Tom says has “captured the public’s imagination.”
Above all, he reckons that coffee drinkers and the shops that serve them need to keep it environmental.
“We have a responsibility to deal with our consumption in a sustainable way.”