December 12, 2017

How Can Used Coffee Grounds Create a Greener Industry?


How many used coffee grounds do you put in a bin every single day? How about every week? Or year? If you compost or otherwise recycle your used coffee grounds, then good for you – but too much of the raw materials needed for our favourite beverage ends up in a landfill.

The positive news is that, by reusing these grounds, we can make the coffee industry greener – both on the consumption and the production side. We are three Colombian friends on a mission to do just this. Read on to discover how.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Crear Una Industria Más Verde Con La Borra Del Café

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Coffee grounds. Credit: Andrea Tummons

The Seeds of an Idea

Let’s go back to London, 2013: a hub for Scandinavians. There we were, three Colombians in a tall, blonde, good-looking, coffee-addicted crowd. We shared countless fikas and hygge moments with our friends. More importantly, we shared our stories of what goes on behind the scenes of coffee: the lives of farmers, the natural world and farming methods, socioeconomic inequalities, and sometimes even corruption.

Bonding over this, and discovering that we could connect the farm to the cup, led us to wonder how we could do this on a grander and more powerful scale.

After a semester of planning, we returned to Colombia for four months of research. We travelled from farm to farm, region to region, meeting dozens of small producers and taking a closer look at their daily challenges. The idea was to find ways to work with them to improve their conditions and their coffee by prioritising sustainability and consistency through the use of technology.

And then, in September 2016, armed with an invitation letter from StartUp Denmark sponsored by the Danish Business Authority, we flew to Copenhagen where we gave life to our vision.

SEE ALSO: Coca to Coffee in Colombia: How FARC Peace Deal Affects Farmers

The Kaffe Bueno team in Colombia’s Coffee Valley. Credit: Kaffe Bueno

Giving Coffee a Second Life

At this point, we founded Kaffe Bueno, our direct sourcing and coffee recycling company. Why coffee recycling? Because although we wanted to help Danes to connect to the story behind their cup, we also wanted to look at what happens after the coffee is consumed.

We have what we call a “circular dream”: that by improving post-consumption sustainability, we can improve sustainability in production. We believe that, by giving a second life to coffee, we can address global issues, such as climate change, that directly affect farmers, coffee, the environment, and coffee lovers.

And finally, after months of hard work, in July 2017 we were granted an Innobooster investment by the Danish Innovation Fund to collaborate with the Danish Technological Institute. Our goal: optimise an oil extraction process for the spent coffee grounds. This was a huge milestone in our journey.

A little bit of context: over 9 billion kilograms of coffee are consumed every year globally; 90% of that becomes waste and most of it ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane (30 times more potent at trapping heat than CO2). In turn, this increases the risk of coffee extinction. By upcycling coffee’s waste, we’re avoiding the release of toxic gases into the environment.

Unlike coffee exfoliants already on the market, we don’t use the grounds but instead we use the oil inside of them. This oil is rich in antioxidants, lipids and other organic compounds that have benefits for human skin. So we decided to use it as the main ingredient in a natural skincare line: Bueno Naturals.

We calculate that, by year five, we will have recycled 218 tonnes of spent coffee grounds – the equivalent of the annual carbon footprint of 118 cars.

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Juan, a coffee producer, explains how a lot of coffee was processed to Juan of Kaffe Bueno. Credit: Kaffe Bueno

From Cosmetics Back to The Coffee Farm

This will in turn also benefit farmers, as climate change and a lack of resources are some of their biggest challenges.

SEE ALSO: What Are The Main Challenges Faced by Coffee Producers?

But it also offers an opportunity for greater profits – ones that can be used to support producers.

We’ve partnered with Yiver Vargas, a producer and also a pioneer in organic agriculture and women’s rights in Colombia’s coffee scene. She’s the leader of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA)’s Colombian daughter organisation, ALMUCAFE, and helps female farmers across three regions to improve their processes.

Our project is to implement technology in Yiver’s local community. Doing so should reduce the costs of production and labour, improve efficiency and resource management, and ultimately increase quality and consistency. This is a long-term plan that is still in development.

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Yiver Vargas (left) and Camilo Fernandez (right) of Kaffe Bueno at Finca Santa Lucia in Huila, Colombia. Credit: Kaffe Bueno

Sustainability is complex: it is about more than coffee prices. It is about more than reducing waste. And it is about more than climate change. But by tackling all of these aspects together, we can create real change in the coffee industry.

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article and cannot directly endorse them.

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