BLOG // // 2.3.2021

New Life of Coffee - How to Recycle Used Coffee Grounds

“No waste” is the statement of the era! How to use coffee grounds once they have been brewed? Find out  how coffee ground waste can be reduced but more importantly, how used coffee grounds can be recycled and upcycled! We are not talking about waste, we are talking about a raw material! 

Before moving forward, let’s find out what is the difference between the terms:

Upcycling: taking the waste as it is to create something totally new that usually is of higher value than the original goods. For example repurposing coffee grounds into shoes. 

Recycling: sorting, breaking down and processing the waste to create something totally new that is roughly of the same value than the original goods. For example a used plastic bottle is taken into recycling and turned into a new plastic bottle which again, at some point, ends up into recycling.    

Downcycling: sorting, breaking down and processing the waste to expand the life cycle of the raw material before tossing it for good. For example an old t-shirt gets a new life as a cleaning rug.

How to minimize the coffee waste

Of course we want to produce as small amount of waste as possible. When talking about coffee in the cafés and at homes this means: 

  1. Recycling the garbage and not sending them to landfill (coffee packages, used coffee grounds).
  2. Upcycling in small scale or contributing to industrial upcycling. 
  3. Purchasing and brewing based on the demand.
  4. Remembering FIFO (= first in, first out).
recycling used coffee grounds
Used coffee grounds and filter papers belong to biowaste!

How to upcycle the used coffee grounds

There are lots of products used coffee grounds can be upcycled into industrially. Here are just some of the examples that can be found online: 

coffee package owl
An owl made of old coffee packages!

As you can figure out seeing the list above, many commercial projects in the industry gather up coffee grounds. Be curious and make a Google search – you might find a company near looking forward to your coffee grounds!  

Choices for an eco-friendly barista

OK, now we know some of the fancy ideas and complicated processes to utilize the used coffee grounds. But what can we do on an individual level? Many smaller scale actions can be taken!

  • Properly compost the grounds instead of sending them to a landfill.  
  • Nurture your garden with a small amount of coffee grounds to improve drainage, water retention and aeriation, to attract worms and microorganisms beneficial to plant growth - or simply as a mulch.
  • Use the grounds as a bed for mushroom plantation. It is interesting, educating and nearly addicting to follow the process slowly forwarding.  
  • Have your fishing worm box filled with coffee ground as worms love this substance.  
  • Sand an icy walkway using coffee grounds and make sure no one slips and falls. 
  • Make a coffee face mask or a scrub or use the grounds as shampoo.   
  • Create art work: a painting or an installation.
  • Dye food or textiles and enjoy the beautiful golden tunes. 
  • Neutralize odors for example in the fridge. 
  • Polish silver and kitchen ware.   
  • Hide scratches on wooden surfaces.
sanding icy walkway with used coffee
Here in Finland you need to sand your walkways in the winter.

What to do with the left over coffee and the coffee packages?

Did you know that most plants like coffee? So go ahead and water them using left over coffee!

watering plant with coffee

One option is to make ice cubes and use them as a base of coffee drinks of a punch bowl.

And let’s not forget about the endless possibilities in kitchen. Left over coffee will get a new life for example in bacon marinade, vinegar and both sweet and savory pastries.

Coffee packages are brilliant material for hand crafting! Key chains, ear rings, snow gliders, even clothes and accessories can be made out of a used coffee package.  
Coffee packages can also be upcycled. For example in Finland we have done this in collaboration with Globe Hope. There are also many consumers who are crafting phenomenal stuff out of empty coffee packages.

coffee package earings
Old coffee package are great material for ear rings!

Paulig has recently started co-operation with a Danish start-up, Kaffe Bueno, which turns coffee grounds into new products. The by-product of coffee production as well as the coffee waste from Paulig’s Vuosaari roastery  is now used as a raw material for cosmetics, nutraceuticals and functional foods.

kaffe bueno
Pasta made of used coffee grounds!

According to Kaffe Bueno, every day over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide. The grounds often end up as waste in plastic bags, mixed with other trash in garbage dumps. The 9 billion kilos of coffee consumed yearly worldwide is treated as waste, or is not properly disposed, being left decomposing in a landfill and generating tons of methane a day, a greenhouse gas 86 times more harmful for the environment than CO2!

For every ton of coffee “waste” decomposed in a landfill, 340m3 of methane are released in the environment. The yearly environmental impact of coffee waste decomposition is equivalent to 10 million car emissions.

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