This week, a swarm of bees turned up at our Alconbury factory in search of a new home.
We called the Huntingdonshire Beekeepers Association and were able to arrange for someone to come and collect the bees. The bees were coaxed gradually a wooden hive box containing sweet treats. Our bio-bees have now been rehoused with a local beekeeper who had a brand new hive ready and waiting.
We also found out some interesting facts about bee swarms:
A bee swarm is a mass of bees clustered together on a post, tree or other structure. It’s a natural occurrence, most often found in Spring and the swarm may remain there for only a few minutes or as long as a few days while the bees look for a new home.
Swarming bees are not dangerous – they should be left alone and not sprayed with a hose, smoke or insecticide. If left alone, the bees shouldn’t harm you.
Bees are having a pretty tough time at the moment – weather conditions this winter means there are less colonies this year.
Most areas will have a local beekeeping club whose members are willing to collect swarms of bees and give them a new home. Find out more about what to do if you find a swarm here.
Over summer 2018 we’re making some mega changes to the machinery, the processes and the layout of our two former aircraft hangars that house our coffee recycling facility. These upgrades will ensure our processes are as efficient as possible and our carbon footprint as low as possible.
Given that it will soon look very different from its former setup, we thought we’d take a look back at this photo series by Miles Willis last year. Miles’ photography focuses on sustainability in the food sector, and we’d previously worked with him for a feature in Jellied Eel magazine. So it seemed like a good fit to have him come and photograph our coffee recycling factory.
The photos below demonstrate the journey from when coffee is tipped at our site through to Coffee Logs and coffee pellets ready for distribution to our retail partners.
We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching pictures: the seahorse clutching a plastic cotton bud, gulls with insides full of miscellaneous bits of plastic, and seals choked by plastic bags. We’ve seen the surge in global media coverage of our giant plastic problem since David Attenborough hammered it home with Blue Planet (distressing and awe-inspiring in equal parts). We’ve criticised everyone from the government to the manufacturers to the supermarkets. But we’ve probably all experienced that nagging feeling that we as individuals are also to blame, and therefore should be able to do something about it.
So Team bio-bean decided to jump on the zero-plastic bandwagon and try to give up single-use (i.e. disposable) plastic for a month. We decided that an outright ban would set ourselves up for failure before we even began so we aimed to eliminate, but committed to significantly reduce our consumption of single-use plastic throughout the month of May. We set up a group chat to encourage each other and share best practices, failures, frustrations and ideas for alternatives.
Starting out as a small group, we soon grew until well over half of the business was involved. Some of us were confident that it would be easy (they were in for a bit of a shock) while others had already been cutting out plastic for some time, and knew all about its sneaky ability to find its way into absolutely everything.
We got off to an optimistic but slightly wobbly start, with the search for plastic-free lunch options yielding some questionable results (tinned soup and cans of tuna – learning later that sadly most tins are lined in plastic), as well as some more satisfactory ones, like burgers in biodegradable boxes and foil-wrapped sandwiches. Once we got into the swing of it, some smug new finds were touted about – reusable water bottles and coffee cups, cosmetics from Lush and market-bought fruit and veg – as well as some early frustrations due to a lack of forward planning (going home hangry after being unable to find a plastic-free snack in the corner shop). The more zealous among us confessed plastics that had been purchased long before the challenge started and cancelled magazine subscriptions due to plastic sleeves, while others were a little more slack (giving in to a hangover’s need for a takeaway, and learning very late in the day that polystyrene, however convenient, is also plastic…)
We signed petitions, we found dry goods refill shops in London (and were exasperated at the lack thereof outside of the capital), and we shared home remedies like white wine and bicarbonate of soda to replace plastic-packaged cleaning products. We found new uses for old things: yoghurt pots, takeaway coffee cups and even ski boots transformed into flower pots; and plastic bags as a reusable alternative to cling film. We learned from some experts in the field – like Weaver Green who make blankets from recycled plastic bottles, and Martin Dorey’s No. More. Plastic. – a book full of brilliant tips (the best, we thought, was research and commit to living within your council’s recycling capabilities).
You pay more when you try to care for both your health and the environment, as we learned from expensive farmer’s markets and artisan bakeries. There are cheaper, less healthy options of course (baked beans, anyone?) but still, 10 days in no-one had managed to be completely single-use-plastic-free. While we had learned a lot about the pitfalls and areas for improvement, it didn’t seem feasible to go 100% #zeroplastic forever and ever amen – at least not without some serious preparation.
But we persevered. Some of us converted to loose-leaf tea to avoid teabags that contain plastic, or switched from plastic bottles of olive oil to 5L tins. We had some happy realisations about staple products packaged in cardboard (like eggs and laundry powder) and less happy realisations that meat and fish are almost impossible to find without plastic wrapping. This was until we found out Morrisons now allow customers to bring their own Tupperware to the fishmonger and butcher counters…
Between picnics, barbecues and generally having to cater for friends who weren’t in on the challenge, many of us failed especially hard over the May bank holiday weekends. Similarly, those team members who lead a double life as a parent also had to compromise – young children are of course both materially very high maintenance (think nappies and wipes) and hard to say no to (think a 4-year-old’s birthday babyccino request).
We asked ourselves some big questions – does a toothbrush count as single-use plastic? Are pizza boxes really recyclable? (Yes and no, as it turns out) Are economics “ruining everything” (as someone phrased it) by keeping biodegradable plastics expensive and fossil-fuel-derived plastic cheap? We were shocked by the lack of information from councils on the recyclability of different materials, and by the false sense of security that what you’re putting in the recycling bin is actually getting recycled. We were unpleasantly surprised to learn that card and paper can be worse than plastic when factoring in the broader environmental footprint (how depressing).
But we had to draw a line in the sand and focus on plastic for now or we’d tie ourselves up in (probably plastic) knots. We used some of those horrifying visuals of plastic wreaking havoc on marine life to keep our eyes on the prize (the prize, of course, being peace of mind for our pious ways).
So here we are at the end of our 31-day challenge, but the journey certainly doesn’t stop here – we’re going to continue to reduce our plastic waste well into the future. You can’t un-see Blue Planet, and once you get started on a plastic-free journey it’s not easy or even desirable to return to selective ignorance. We’ve built new plastic-free habits into our everyday lives, realising there are so many small changes that can make a difference, and more conscious now of the range of alternatives available.
As one of our colleagues aptly pointed out, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and looking at how much we all managed to cut down in a short space of time, it’s not a bad start.
This month the bio-bean team has been hitting the road, participating in Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs Live in London and exhibiting at sustainability expo edie Live in the NEC, Birmingham.
We’re really proud that our Coffee Logs have been selected by Kevin McCloud as one of his Green Heroes – some of the best environmental homeware products on the market. We were invited to demonstrate Coffee Logs to Grand Designs Live attendees, and our Business Development Manager Matt was interviewed onstage by Kevin McCloud (see image above). Matt was joined by fellow Green Heroes Piñatex, making a leather alternative from pineapple waste; Bamboo Bicycle Club, giving people the skills and the materials to build long-lasting, eco-friendly bicycles; Claire Potter who re-uses plastic waste to create chandeliers and much more; and Sebastian Cox who uses British timber and traditional methods to create bespoke furniture.
It was fantastic to have the opportunity to share the stage with such inspiring individuals and discuss our Coffee Logs with the design guru himself (and to shamelessly get his signature on a Coffee Logs bag!) Here’s Matt discussing how our coffee recycling forms a closed-loop, zero waste system:
Last week we exhibited at edie Live, a two-day expo bringing environment, resources and energy professionals together to share ideas on achieving a sustainable future. Over at stand N38 we were kept very busy with a near-constant stream of visitors! It was brilliant to engage with people who’d only just heard about coffee recycling and give them the tools to get started, as well as reconnect with current partners and some of the people who have been following our journey since the beginning.
We also went to see our partner Costa Coffee’s Energy & Environment Manager Oliver Rosevear speaking about recycling coffee cups and sending used coffee grounds to us for recycling. And we got to show off our brand new brochures and business cards – designed by our London office neighbours graphicks (and all printed on recycled paper, of course!)
Having started out in London, bio-bean now collects waste coffee grounds from sites across Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton. And we’ll take any excuse for a road trip to visit some of the people around the country who have signed up for coffee collections, and are providing crucial raw material for our biofuels and biochemicals. Which is how we found ourselves in Brighton this week…
Paper Round Brighton
Paper Round carry out coffee waste collection on our behalf in the Brighton area, so we began with a visit to their facility in Lancing. The less contaminated the grounds are when they arrive at our factory, the easier it is for our team to process them into useful biofuels. Paper Round keep coffee waste separate from food, dry mixed recycling, glass and other waste streams using distinctive orange lids.
Flour Pot Bakery
Our next stop was The Flour Pot Bakery in Hove, where we sampled a couple of delicious coffees. One of Paper Round’s clients, Flour Pot was the first Brighton-based business to sign up to bio-bean’s coffee recycling service.
(Then we took a strictly work-related detour down to the seafront to look out at the water and Brighton Pier.)
Westlain House at The University of Brighton
Finally, we went to the University of Brighton’s Falmer campus. Coffee ground recycling forms an important part of the University hospitality department’s sustainability drive, which encompasses a range of waste reduction initiatives. Starting with Westlain House, coffee recycling will soon be rolled out at other sites throughout the campus.
In the notoriously Green Brighton, it was wonderful to meet some of the people whose commitment to sustainability is helping make bio-bean’s vision a reality.
2017 has seen our Coffee Logs sales soar beyond expectations and our waste coffee collections reach three new cities in the UK. We’ve delivered a ‘Wonderfuel’ advertising campaign, and we’ve powered London busses with coffee. And we’ve just made a viral video that has been viewed by over 3 million people!
It really has been the Year of the Coffee Log for bio-bean. We carried out product improvements, exhibited at the Farm Shop & Deli Show and GLEE and made two new Coffee Logs videos (one of which went viral). We gained recognition from the likes of GIMA and Kevin McCloud and ran a Wonderfuel ad campaign across some of the best ad space in the country.
This year the production capacity at our Alconbury factory tripled with the installation of new machinery, as well as streamlined production processes. Keeping our focus on environmental sustainability, we commissioned an independent life cycle analysis, which showed that recycling waste coffee with us produces 60% less emissions than sending it to landfill.
We have a number of major plant upgrades planned for next year that will further reduce our carbon footprint, providing an even more sustainable solution for the UK’s coffee waste.
Waste coffee collection
Our waste coffee collection operations have seen significant growth in 2017, both geographically and in terms of volume. We now recycle the waste coffee from over 1,500 sites in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton and most recently Kent. We established new partnerships with waste management and logistics firms, built a repertoire of case studies and set up new collection models for inbound coffee waste. And there’s further expansion in the pipeline! To join our collection route or become a partner, contact us.
Photo credit: Miles Willis
Our R&D continues into the extraction of oil from waste coffee grounds for a range of applications. In November we hit an important milestone by supplying biodiesel made partly from Coffee Oil into theLondon bus network, in collaboration with Argent Energy and Shell, as part of Shell’s #makethefuture campaign. The project had been a longstanding ambition for bio-bean and secured global media coverage: our founder Arthur Kay was interviewed for CNN, BBC World, Sky News and Bloomberg to name a few!
Shell and bio-bean 2017 Credit: Ed Robinson/Shell
It’s been an amazing year, and there’s even more planned for 2018.
A huge thank you to all of our partners, retailers, customers and supporters for helping us get 2017 #poweredbycoffee!
We at bio-bean know why we’d choose our Coffee Logs over other fuels.
But we also know there’s a tiny chance that we’re a bit biased, so we challenged ourselves to come up with 10 really good reasons why you should be burning Coffee Logs this winter…
1. Coffee Logs make the UK’s coffee habit more sustainable – both environmentally and economically. Coffee is a fantastic drink that fuels our day, tastes amazing and overall makes the world a better place. But it also creates a lot of waste – each espresso-based coffee creates about 25 grams of waste coffee grounds. In making Coffee Logs, we’re diverting this waste from landfill (a waste disposal method which is both environmentally disastrous and expensive for businesses). Using Coffee Logs therefore helps us keep recycling coffee, and positively impacting the cafe industry – so you can continue to enjoy drinking coffee long into the distant future.
2. Coffee Logs burn like wood – but better! They contain more energy, and less moisture, than seasoned wood. The result is that they’ll keep your home warmer, for longer.
3. They’re versatile: they can be used in woodburners, multi-fuel stoves, open fires and chimineas, and will burn just fine in combination with other fuels like wood, coal and briquettes.
4. Even the packaging is recyclable. Each bag of 16 Coffee Logs is made from strong, portable and recyclable paper (alternatively, it can be used as your firelighter).
5. They smell a little bit of coffee – but not too much. There’s a faint whiff as you open the bag, but most of it’s gone by the time the grounds have been processed, dried and compressed at our factory. And as much as we love a good coffee aroma, we think even the most dedicated coffee addicts might get fed up with their living room smelling like a Starbucks…
6. They’re made in Britain, from waste that’s created in Britain. Even the sawdust that’s added to the logs to help them bind is a waste product sourced near our factory in Cambridgeshire.
7. They leave hardly any ash residue, because they’re so full of energy – so there’s less mess to clean up in your woodburner or fireplace.
8. They’re carbon neutral. Coffee plants absorb CO2 as they grow, and use it to photosynthesise. As long as the world keeps consuming coffee (a habit we don’t see ending any time soon), the amount of emissions associated with burning Coffee Logs will always be absorbed by the next generation of coffee plants.
9. Even better,they’re a second-generation biofuel because they’re made of waste. Unlike first-generation biofuels (made from specially grown crops), second-gen biofuels don’t take up any land or contribute emissions associated with land-use change. Instead, they’re made of a waste destined for landfill – so it’s a double saving, environmentally speaking.
This week the bio-bean team has been at the NEC Birmingham for two major trade shows: GLEE garden retail show and RWM (Resource and Waste Management). For bio-bean these shows represented the two sides of the business: coffee in, and wonderfuel out.
GLEE took up four of the NEC’s cavernous halls and was filled with an enormous range of products and no shortage of curious garden characters (our favourite – or at least the most bizarre – was a 25-foot metal giraffe) – and we were there to grow our catalogue of Coffee Logs retailers throughout the UK. Matt, Kyle, Pippa and Jacqui manned our Coffee Logs stand in the Innovators Zone on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, speaking to buyers from independent garden centres and chain stores about stocking our amazing winter fuel made from waste coffee grounds.
On Monday we were presented with our award from the Garden Industry Manufacturers Association (GIMA). Their fantastic Innovators Seed Corn Fund provides funding and support to help break into the garden retail market. Thanks to this we’ve already booked our spot at next year’s Glee!
Coffee Logs – our eco wonderfuel for stoves, fires and chimineas – were also a finalist in the New Product Showcase, proving that ours is an ideal product for garden centres and farm shops. Also at the stand we showed our brand new Coffee Logs film and gave away a bottle of Kahlua in a draw – the lucky winners were fellow exhibitors Silverback.
Our presence at RWM meanwhile was courtesy of the Department for International Trade (DIT) Supported Exhibitor package. It was a fantastic opportunity for bio-bean to meet with fellow members of the waste management, logistics and recycling community with a view to bringing even more waste coffee grounds to our factory in Cambridgeshire to be recycled into biofuels.
Between Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday team members George, Julia, Chris and Alina were kept busy with meetings with prospective coffee recycling partners, while our CCO George was a panellist in an event on smart cities alongside Dylan Thomas from the DIT and others.
The success of this week was down to the hard work of all the team, and proved how invaluable it is for startups like bio-bean to exhibit. It brings us into direct contact with people and companies that we can work with, and sets the foundations for future partnerships and collaboration.
We are often asked how waste coffee grounds make their way from the bottom of a coffee machine to our factory in Alconbury Weald, Cambridgeshire – and the distances covered by our collection routes often surprise people.
Wherever possible, we use vehicles that are already on the road – which minimises waste mileage, optimises existing transport routes and hubs, and stays true to bio-bean’s sustainability mission.
One example is Greggs. Greggs delivers products from its distribution centre in Kettering to its centre in Enfield every day. This delivery vehicle used to be empty as it made its way back to Kettering to reload.
But now, this vehicle drops off hundreds of buckets of waste coffee grounds, collected from Greggs sites, at our factory along the return journey back to Kettering. This is known as backhauling waste and in this way, bio-bean receives tonnes of coffee waste daily, while Greggs avoids having an empty vehicle driving on the roads.
Businesses can also make their own arrangements to transport their waste coffee to bio-bean.
New friends of bio-bean, Leeds-based Fitch Brew Co got in touch after realising they produce over half a tonne of waste coffee grounds every month as part of their cold brewing process. They were reluctant to see the coffee sent to general or food waste, and they now transport their coffee waste every month in bulk bags to bio-bean’s factory.
We are able to arrange waste coffee collection from more and more locations, by means of a number of different transportation methods. So if you’re curious about whether you could be sending us your waste coffee grounds, saving money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, get in touch and we’ll do our very best to set it up.
bio-bean CEO and founder Arthur Kay was thrilled to be named Entrepreneur of the Year at the the 10th anniversary of the esteemed BusinessGreen Leaders Awards last night, while our partnership with Network Rail was Highly Commended.
In 2013 while still an architecture student, Arthur saw the potential in waste coffee grounds as a feedstock for biofuels. Since then he has developed this idea into a 40-strong company that provides an industrial-scale solution to the problem of coffee waste while reducing carbon emissions, saving businesses money, and displacing conventional fuels.
Winning this prestigious award recognises Arthur’s significant achievements over the last four years, and the team at bio-bean offer him hearty congratulations.
“In one of our most competitive categories Arthur Kay won over the judges for the emergence of bio-bean as one of the most exciting green start-ups in the UK today. Kay has single-mindedly pursued a vision to turn waste into sustainable fuel and has developed a successful and increasingly high profile business with hugely impressive green credentials in the process.”
Network Rail and bio-bean – bio-bean’s coffee recycling partnership with Network Rail was Highly Commended in the Circular Economy Project of the Year category. Network Rail is one of bio-bean’s longest-standing coffee suppliers, with 100s of tonnes of spent coffee grounds from railway stations all over London arriving at our Alconbury factory every year.
A panel of distinguished environmental leaders including InnovateUK, Green Alliance, Aldersgate Group and ClientEarth chose the winners, recognising clean technology companies and sustainable business models that are driving the green economy throughout the UK and Europe.
Other winners included former executive secretary to the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, IKEA and Carbon Tracker Initiative.
Congratulations Arthur, and well done to the bio-bean team members who have worked closely with Network Rail!