News

29th August 2019

Is recycling waste coffee grounds the best choice?

The UK drinks 95 million cups of coffee every day, creating around 500,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year. So what happens to all that waste coffee, and is there a better choice?

Of course some businesses set aside a small volume of their waste coffee grounds for customers to take home as garden fertiliser. In small amounts the grounds can also make a great homemade exfoliant.

But typically, heavy wet coffee grounds often end up in general waste, which usually goes to landfill. In the UK, a landfill tax (currently around £88.95/tonne and increasing to £94.15/tonne from 1st April 2020) is levied on landfill site operators, who pass this cost on to their customers via higher collection fees. Additionally, waste management companies regularly charge for contaminated dry mixed recycling.

Not to mention the environmental damage of sending waste coffee gorunds to landfill, where they emit harmful greenhouse gases including methane. Methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, and one of the leading causes of climate change.

Waste coffee grounds can also be sent off to anaerobic digestion plants where, in the absence of oxygen, microorganisms break down biodegradable material for managing waste or producting fuel. But this isn’t ideal, either. Some AD plants don’t like a high volume of used coffee grounds in their process as the grounds tend to sink to the bottom of the ‘belly’, inhibiting the rate of biomethane production.

Alternatively, waste grounds are incinerated for purposes of energy generation. While incinerating coffee grounds is better than sending them to landfill, it is still not the best use of this resource (not least because they are wet). Incinerating spent coffee grounds does not harness the material’s full potential.

However, at bio-bean we are able to fully utilise this discarded resource by removing heavy, wet coffee grounds from the wider waste stream and recycling them into a number of sustainable, circular-economy focused, high-performance bio-products. Not only does our coffee disposal and recycling service generate significant savings for businesses, it also saves on emissions.

An independent life cycle assessment completed for bio-bean shows that sending coffee grounds to our factory for recycling into our branded solid fuel briquettes, Coffee Logs, generates 80% less CO2e emissions than sending them to landfill, and 70% less CO2e emissions than sending them to AD.

One of our longest standing customers is Costa Coffee, the leading UK coffee retail chain (bought by Coca-Cola in 2018) with whom we have been working for over 3 years, recycling over 10,000 tonnes of spent coffee thus far. Oliver Rosevear, Head of Environment at Costa, says “our ground-breaking work with bio-bean has enabled us to put thousands of tonnes of Costa coffee grounds to work, diverting 37% by weight of all our waste and thus saving 4,500 tonnes of CO2e emissions. This has made a real impact to our environmental credentials, helping to gain us the official status of the UK’s most ethical coffee shop.”

It is clear that recycling waste coffee through bio-bean is the best commercial and environmental choice for coffee disposal.