The significant value of spent coffee grounds - bio-bean
pile of spent grounds


20th December 2022

The significant value of spent coffee grounds

Coffee – the ubiquitous drink that transcends all political and geographical boundaries, bringing the world’s morning warriors and late-night labourers together in a ritual daily sigh of caffeinated relief.

The world population drinks over 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day. The UK alone is responsible for 98 million of those cups. With an estimated average of 11 grams of fresh ground coffee going into each cup, around 393,500 tonnes of ground coffee are brewed every year, resulting in an estimated quarter of a million tonnes of wet, waste coffee grounds.

But once the coffee’s been poured what happens to all those spent grounds?

Typically, spent coffee grounds are dumped into general waste and sent to landfill where they decompose and emit methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, and one of the primary causes of global warming. This level of detrimental waste is a calamity in itself.

In some cases spent grounds are sent to anaerobic digestion along with food waste. But at high volumes, spent coffee grounds have been shown to inhibit the desired biomethane production. Not to mention they sink to the bottom of AD ‘bellies’ and require scooping out and discarding afterall.

As the world’s love of coffee is unlikely to wane, let’s take a closer look at this material we’re treating as waste and examine what we’re really throwing away in those grounds.

There is residual value in spent coffee grounds

The process of roasting green coffee beans generates hundreds of volatile chemical compounds responsible for the unmistakable flavour and aroma of the world’s favourite hot drink. Not to mention the oils, caffeine and range of other beneficial compounds (such as antioxidants) that exist within the beans. Brewing the coffee grounds, as it turns out, does not fully exhaust those compounds within. In fact, spent coffee grounds still retain up to a third of the volatile aroma and flavour compounds as contained in the fresh roasted beans.

Spent coffee grounds also make for a versatile and sustainable bulk raw material. They can be used to displace virgin or synthetic, often petroleum-based elements in plastics, printing inks, cosmetics, packaging, textiles, and more.

Coffee grounds are also high in calorific value, meaning they burn hot… very hot. In fact, when compressed into fire logs they burn 20% hotter than conventional dry wood fuels. And they avoid the carbon-heavy footprint associated with coal-based smokeless fuels or mass-imported wood logs.

In other words, there is still significant value remaining in spent coffee grounds – value which to date has not yet been fully realised.

Throwing away this precious natural resource that still has broad and significant value and applications across a number of industries is a superfluous act of consumption that perfectly demonstrates the take, make, dispose approach of our current linear economic structure. Sure, low volumes of spent coffee grounds can be great for fertilising domestic gardens, but until the past few years, spent coffee grounds have been largely overlooked as a valid, sustainable resource on an industrial scale.

bio-bean’s solution for valorising spent coffee

Enter bio-bean. We’re the world’s largest coffee recycling company, processing thousands of tonnes of spent coffee grounds every year into sustainable bio-products for a circular economy.

We work within the existing logistics and waste management infrastructure in the UK to collect these spent grounds from businesses at every scale, from leading coffee chains and large transport hubs to office buildings, instant coffee manufacturers, restaurants and small independent cafés. Once the grounds are tipped at our facility in Cambridgeshire, we process and upcycle them, ready for reuse in a variety of products for both industry and consumers.

There really is no such thing as waste, only value that hasn’t yet been extracted.

For more information on our coffee recycling service, visit the Renewals page on our website.


This blog has been updated from the original, posted 28th August 2019