Cawleys has recently teamed up with bio-bean, a clean technology company which turns used coffee grounds into a range of products, including Coffee Logs. Together the businesses are working to help all companies that consume coffee across the South East to recycle their waste coffee grounds into a product with a useful second life.
Here we interview avid coffee drinkers, George May, Chief Commercial Officer at bio-bean, and Anna Cawley, Director of Customer Services at Cawleys, about the practicalities and environmental benefits of coffee recycling.
Q: Why is it important to find other uses for coffee grounds?
George: Coffee grounds are produced in huge volumes by every business that makes coffee onsite — and they’re often disposed of in general waste, which goes to landfill. Only a small amount heads to food waste and anaerobic digestion.
Landfill is not only a very costly means of waste disposal, but also causes environmental harm as the grounds break down and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Coffee grounds don’t fare so well in anaerobic digesters either because its gritty nature slows down biomethane production. They also contaminate recycling which results in lower recycling rates for businesses as well as extra charges.
Anna: The UK produces 500,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year, making it increasingly important for companies like ours to partner with innovative recycling methods such as bio-bean’s Coffee Logs, instead of allowing waste coffee to be dumped in landfill sites.
Recycling coffee helps reduce greenhouse gases, diverts waste away from landfill and gives your latte a useful second life. Each carbon neutral Coffee Log is made from the grounds of 25 cups of coffee and contains about 20 per cent more energy than wood. bio-bean’s life cycle assessment indicates that sending used coffee grounds to bio-bean produces 80 per cent less CO2 emissions than sending them to landfill.
Why don’t you just send coffee waste to compost sites?
Anna: Coffee grounds sent to composting can take some time before it starts to break down. Due to consistency and energy content, the bio-bean process can harness much more potential from the coffee grounds. Commercial composting facilities are also few and far between, so the transport mileage to these facilities undermines any environmental benefit.
Q: What inspired you to look at recycling coffee grounds?
George: Our founder, Arthur Kay, was studying architecture at university and was tasked with designing a sustainable coffee shop. He realised that no matter what measures are put in place to make the building more environmentally sustainable, there would always be substantial volumes of coffee grounds being wasted.
He set about researching whether those grounds could be put to better use and discovered coffee grounds are full of oil, making them a great raw material to create a fuel product.
Q: What do you have to ensure when recycling coffee grounds?
Anna: The customer just needs to ensure they store their coffee grounds separately. When Cawleys collect them we need to make sure they stay separate from any other waste streams too, because wet coffee grounds will contaminate other waste streams such as cardboard. When we deliver the coffee grounds to bio-bean they have to dry them out before they can be processed into Coffee Logs.
Q: What does the process of creating Coffee Logs involve?
George: Waste coffee grounds are collected by our waste management partners, like Cawleys, and aggregated at a site outside London. They are then hauled in bulk to our factory in Alconbury, Cambridgeshire, where they are processed into biofuels. This involves decontaminating the grounds before they are dried down to a specific moisture content using a dryer, heated by our own coffee pellets, burnt in our biomass boiler. Then the dry powder is ready to be compressed into Coffee Logs, which are for use in stoves and wood burners.
Q: How does the system work, for example how do people store the grounds, and how often do you collect them?
Anna: Cawleys provides special bags and caddies to our customers such as coffee shops, hotels, offices, shops or anywhere coffee is made. The waste coffee grounds are stored separately from other waste streams as it ensures the different forms of waste don’t contaminate each other. A ‘clean’ waste stream makes a better-quality resource for recycling, which makes it cost effective.
The coffee grounds are then collected by Cawleys as part of our waste collection rounds, making efficient use of transport and distribution networks, an important consideration for any company wishing to reduce its environmental impact. We then deliver the used coffee grounds to bio-bean, ready for the waste’s conversion to Coffee Logs.
Cawleys works with a number of coffee shops, including Charlie’s Coffee and Company in St. Albans. Charlie’s sells coffee in her independent shop as well as every morning out of a three-wheeled Piaggio van at St. Albans train station. Charlie’s small, but perfectly formed van, measures a tiny one metre by two but managing to store the coffee waste isn’t a problem. The waste coffee grounds are stored in the van each morning by Charlie and transferred regularly to the shop where it is then stored in the specialist containers. We then collect the coffee waste from Charlie’s coffee shop every week.
Q: Can all types of coffee grounds be turned into coffee logs?
George: Yes — we don’t differentiate! As long as coffee grounds are kept separate with as little contamination as possible we are happy to receive them at our factory.
Q: How long did it take to develop the technology?
George: Our factory was commissioned in 2014 and completed in 2015. However, it’s an ongoing process of refinement; this summer we are carrying out a series of upgrades to our processes and machinery to ensure a consistently high-quality product, maximise efficiency and minimise our environmental footprint.
Q: How many logs does your company manufacture a day?
George: Last year we produced over 800,000 Coffee Logs and we have even more ambitious manufacturing targets for this autumn/winter season!
Q: Ground coffee waste is only one part of the problem, what do you do with coffee cups?
Anna: Disposable, single use coffee cups are collected by Cawleys and are baled ready for recycling, to ensure the cups are transported efficiently to our partner reprocessing plant. At the reprocessing plant the cups are processed through a pulper, which delaminates the materials and breaks it down into fibres. This makes it easier to reprocess the cups into other forms of packaging such as carton tubes used for gravy granules or hot chocolate.
Recently, some outlets have been using ‘compostable’ cups which in my opinion is a worse option than disposable carton board cups. Understandably, most would think ‘compostable’ cups would just go into compost but, in reality, there are few commercial composting facilities. The transport mileage created sending cups to these very limited sites undermines any environmental benefit the cups may have, and the cups aren’t suitable for anaerobic digestion plants either.
Q: Why are Coffee Logs better than real logs, for burning?
George: Coffee contains 20 per cent more energy than wood which means Coffee Logs burn both hotter and for longer. It’s also much better environmentally speaking — using a waste product to produce fuel means no trees are cut down. If you compare recycling coffee grounds into Coffee Logs and using those Logs, the overall carbon saving is 80 per cent compared to landfill.
Q: Do they smell of coffee when they burn?
George: Not really — by the time the coffee has been used to make an espresso, processed at our factory and compressed, most of the aromatic compounds have been used up. It is subjective though, some of our customers say their front room smells like a café and others say it smells more like traditional burning wood or has little to no odour.
Q: Do you add chemicals to the Coffee Logs to make them burn?
George: No, but we do add a bit of sawdust to help them bind.
Q: Do they cost the same as a bag of real wood logs?
George: We think you shouldn’t have to pay extra to choose the environmental option, so we’ve priced the Coffee Logs similarly to other biomass briquettes and heat logs. The RRP is £6.99 for a bag of 16 logs.
Q: Who buys Coffee Logs?
George: Anyone who owns a wood-burner or has an open fire and wants an efficient and eco-friendly fuel! We sell Coffee Logs through a range of retail partners, from the likes of Morrisons and Blue Diamond garden centres through to small independent farm shops. You can also find them online on the likes of Amazon, Abel & Cole and Ocado.
Q: How do you encourage people to use Coffee Logs rather than wood logs?
George: It’s about making people aware that they’re out there as a great alternative to conventional fuels — and getting across the benefits like how efficient it is, how it helps reduce your carbon footprint and that the Logs are made in the UK.
Q: What made you work with bio-bean?
Anna: At Cawleys we are always looking for innovative and exciting ways to manage all kinds of waste. When the opportunity to work with bio-bean arose, we couldn’t turn it down. Drinking coffee is such a large part of people’s everyday life and, as delicious as it is, its waste can have a detrimental impact on the environment. Working with bio-bean to find a useful second life use for coffee grounds fits with our ethos of finding sustainable recycling and waste solutions for customers.
Q: Why have you chosen to work with Cawleys?
George: We started partnering with Cawleys to collect coffee grounds from the Canary Wharf Estate in London. They did a fantastic job turning the area into a clean coffee zone. We’ve found them to be great, consistent and reliable people to work with, so it made sense to expand our partnership into the other areas where they operate.