One of the fixations people in all parts of the world share, including the reader who is most likely engaged in the fixation right now – is the dark caramel liquid that is coffee. It can soothe and excite us, it’s the first thing we look to make when we roll out of bed, all the way to the end of the day when we may eat it in cakes or rub coffee scrubs on ourselves. As the most popular drink in the world, with 2.5 billion cups drunk every day, it’s undeniable this habit is a joy of life. And while it’s entirely possible for this practice to spark us to life while regenerating the planet, this hasn’t been the case for a long while; from the wasteful use of byproducts produced in coffee production, to the management of coffee grounds, as well as the pollution caused by the single-use vessels that are used once and tossed. In Canada alone, it’s estimated that 1.6-2 billion disposable coffee cups are used and disposed of every year.
Yet, another way is possible for the coffee industry, creating innumerable new sustainable businesses and works of wonder, contributing to a circular economy. Let’s start at the beginning, where the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee cherry. In the wet processing of coffee beans, about 1,000 kilograms of fresh berry results in about 400 kilograms of wasted cherry pulp. Being disregarded as wasted is an undeserved reality for the fruit, and an unwise use of all the sun, water, and insect pollination, as well as all of the other exchanges of energy that brings the flora to life. What’s better than ejecting this fruit to landfill is taking advantage of its many benefits; the pulp of the coffee cherry is now being used by businesses for coffee flour – a nutrient-dense gluten-free flour. Coffee flour is now reducing waste, establishing a new healthy food source, while providing greater income to coffee growers.
Now, after the coffee is transported and roasted, it can be served up in places high and low for folks to indulge in. When this isn’t in our own homes, what do restaurants and cafes do? Many places offer reusable cups for drinkers in house. Many offer this and/or single-use takeaway coffee mugs made from a variety of plastic resins – many of which are not recycled, and are sent to landfill or end up polluting ecosystems. Now, many cafes are taking a leap of faith in behavioural change, completely eliminating takeaway coffee cups altogether. Locally, Darwin’s Cafe and Ocean Outfitters have done this, along with businesses all over the world who are looking to curb plastic pollution and lower waste. Additionally, many cafes and roasters are allowing people to bring in their own containers to fill with beans, including most coffee companies on the Pacific Rim! So, you can take your zero waste coffee habit a step further by eliminating the need to purchase a foil bag by buying beans with your own reusable ware.
Now, what about the grounds? An astonishing six million tonnes are sent to landfill every year around the globe, contributing to methane production. Coffee grounds will not break down in landfills, but they can add nutrition to any compost heap, and many coffee roasters on the coast, including Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe, abide by this management ethic. However, the transformation of grounds is going beyond this conventional wisdom. UK Designer Rosalie McMillan is turning grounds into jewelry, beautiful modern works of onyx lookalikes. Her work is bringing awareness to sustainability in the fashion world, inspiring other makers to turn to recycled material for their creations. Extending on this idea, coffee grounds are also being made into home fashions, from durables tables to chairs through a circular business, Re-Worked. On a local level, Sea Wench uses grounds in their Expresso Body Scrub, which is combined with offcuts from soap, coconut sugar, sea salt, as well as herbal and berry oils. These grounds are saved from landfill, finding a beneficial use for our skin – reducing cellulite, exfoliating the skin, and boosting circulation.
Kaffeeform is another circular company morphing coffee grounds into reusable cups, so on top of eliminating organic waste and the need for takeaway cups, you can drink your fresh pour out of a cup that produced many coffees before your own! Additionally, what is perhaps the most progressive solution for eliminating waste while lowering carbon emissions is using coffee grounds for biofuels. Natural oils are secreted in the grounds, and can be extracted for biofuels for the production of electricity, and biodiesel for vehicles. A startup out of Scotland, Revive Eco, is also extracting the oils from coffee grounds for numerous applications, in the motivation to replace palm oil, as the oils are remarkably similar. So, from waste products, ethical and sustainable consumer goods and necessities are being made, eliminating the need to extract raw resources, which has more deleterious social and environmental impacts than keeping existing materials in use through recycling, upcycling, reusing, etc. And, if you thought you loved coffee, you now need to ask yourself, do you bring your own mug for it, wear it, lounge on it, fuel your life with it and drink out of it?