New ground for coffee

Bethany Wivell finds out how waste coffee grounds can be put to good use

An estimated 80 million cups of coffee are consumed in the UK every day and with the recent wave of fair trade products, coffee is starting to taste all the more sweet. But while we might be proud of our ethical statistics, how are we doing environmentally?

With every latte, cappuccino or mocha there comes a certain amount of waste and by the end of the week, cafes are left with sacks full of used coffee grounds. UK coffee chains produce 300 tonnes of this waste a week according to researchers Allegra Strategies. Home filter systems also accumulate a substantial amount of waste grounds, which are dumped straight in the bin.

However, it’s not all bitter. A growing number of independent and branded cafes have started to bag up and give away grounds to customers as part of a new recycling push.

As recent environmental research suggests, coffee needn’t be thrown on to landfill but instead can be put to good use in the garden. While coffee isn’t a British product and is very high in acid, there are many qualities that have proven quite helpful for British soil, if used in the right way.

Fungi Futures, a social enterprise in the South West, are collecting coffee grounds from local cafes and mixing them with shredded cardboard waste and mushroom spawn. This unique environment helps to produce delicious and nutritious homegrown oyster mushrooms, which are then sold to restaurants and farm shops in Plymouth and are also available online.

It’s not just mushrooms that have developed a thirst for coffee. Tomatoes have also proven susceptible. This is the perfect solution to resolving household waste, as they only need a few shots a week. So next time you empty the filter, keep the coffee in a pot until your tomatoes look hungry.

The acid present in coffee also acts as an excellent deterrent to pesky slugs and will leave your home-growns nibble free. Earthworms however, love the stuff; sprinkle your grounds onto your plot and let nature do the rest.

So, we now know that coffee helps the garden, but that takes time. What about coffee lovers looking for that instant fix? The answer is soap. It may come as a surprise to learn that coffee is actually a natural deodoriser.

Coffee is also creeping its way onto the clothes rail. Loved for its odour and UV resistant qualities, coffee is the secret agent to a growing number of manufacturers, such as Virus in California or Singtex in Taiwan. By recycling waste coffee grounds into yarn, it is then used to create sustainable fabrics often found in sports wear.

So, it would seem that as well as getting better ethically, coffee can be good environmentally and comes with new economic prospects too. Although we’re unlikely to see doctors start proclaiming it benefits to us physically, all in all we may have found ourselves the world’s best drink.