It’s certainly true to say that coffee is a strong contender for the title of World’s Most Popular Beverage. Around 400 billion cups of the stuff are consumed every year across the world, with the UK alone contributing around 95 million cups to that number each day - a 25 per cent increase in only 10 years.
But all that coffee also results in a lot of coffee grounds - the byproduct left over once the coffee has been brewed. Usually, these are dumped in the bin and sent to landfill, but one Scottish social startup has come up with a way of recycling them into something much more valuable.
Glasgow based Revive Eco works with partners across the city - such as cafes and offices - to collect their unwanted coffee grounds and transport them to their recycling plant. Once there, there are processed and reduced into a versatile oil which has applications in many sectors, such as the culinary and pharmaceutical industries.
Revive Eco is also currently in the running as the Scottish finalist for the Chivas Venture funding competition and will be pitching to the Chivas investors in May for a slice of a 1 million USD investment fund. RESET spoke with Fergus Moore, who co-founded Revive Eco along with Scott Kennedy in 2015, to find out more about their project.
So, how did the idea for Revive Eco come about?
Scott and I were both studying business at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. In one of our classes, we were tasked with coming up with a business idea that had some kind of social or environmental impact behind it. We both worked in hospitality at the time and had seen people coming into our work and asking for bags of used coffee grounds to take home to put on their compost heap. We therefore knew that there must be more value in this material than simply putting them in the bin and sending them off to landfill or to be incinerated. We started researching different things that we could do with coffee grounds and straight away knew we were onto something.
Just how versatile of a material are coffee grounds? What can you do with them?
Coffee grounds are quite widely known to make an amazing addition to your compost because they contain lots of elements and nutrients that enable plant growth. They also have a really high calorific value so if they are pelletised, they make a great low carbon energy source. However, we’re looking at the oils held within the coffee grounds because that’s where the real value is! They have a range of uses in lots of different industries such as food and drink, cosmetics and beauty, pharmaceuticals, household products, you name it.
The most exciting part for us though is that they contain all of the same components as palm oil. Palm oil has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons with it being responsible for deforestation and all the emissions that come with it. We’re developing a process that allows us to separate and purify the oils within coffee efficiently and cost effectively, meaning that we can provide a sustainable alternative and replace palm oil in the various products it’s currently used in.
What products are Revive Eco currently working on?
Right now we’re focused on developing the process itself. Perfecting this is essential to the success of Revive and so we’re putting a lot of time and money into it. We’re hoping to have the first small-scale processing unit up and running later this year, before then expanding to a full scale plant by next summer.
Coffee shop culture is increasing in popularity across the world, so what else can the sector do to become more environmentally friendly?
Coffee shops are already doing a lot to try to become more environmentally friendly. They are promoting the use of reusable cups or, at the very least, providing recyclable cups. Lots of the cafes we work with use their food waste for compost to be used in the local community. There has also been a sharp rise in the use of compostable packaging, which is great to see, as long as collection systems progress to ensure that this material is effectively separated and recycled. Analysing the supply chain can also help coffee shops become more sustainable, from looking at the coffee supplier, to the milk supplier right through to what happens with all of their waste material. There are small changes which could be made which would make a huge impact.
With so many coffee ground going to waste everyday, how do you hope to scale Revive Eco?
With over 40,000 tonnes of coffee grounds being generated in Scotland alone each year, there is huge scope for us to scale Revive. The key to scaling quickly and effectively comes down to the partnerships we create. It is pivotal for us to work closely with our supply chain, most notably the coffee roasters and cafes who are producing the coffee grounds, as well as resource management companies to enable us to access the used coffee grounds. We know there is growing demand from the industry to be dealing with coffee grounds in a more sustainable fashion, so we are confident we can scale our collections very quickly.
What has the response to your concept been from clients and customers?
Fantastic. Many of our clients have come to us as they have been actively seeking a sustainable solution like ours. From everyone we have spoken to, it feels like a no-brainer, why would a coffee shop not want to dispose of their waste material in the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly method as possible? In terms of the customers of our oils, the reaction has been equally positive. Industries such as cosmetic manufacturing are definitely putting an emphasis on seeking our materials which are locally and sustainably sourced, and this is a demand which we can meet. Interestingly, a lot of this shift in what businesses are looking for has been very much driven by the consumers up, which is fantastic to see businesses taking note of shifts in what is important to consumers.
What else can people do to ensure that they enjoy their coffee as sustainably as possible?
There are many small changes people can make to be more sustainable in their consumption of coffee. Buying and using a reusable cup for coffee on the go is probably the most obvious, and most impactful. As has been widely publicised, single use coffee cups are a disaster. Having a reusable coffee cup is not only much better for the environment, but will also see you receiving a small discount on your purchase from many coffee shops. If you drink ground coffee at home, then throw your coffee grounds onto your garden or the compost pile as opposed to in the bin. Coffee grounds are great for the likes of roses and tomato plants, and also act as a natural slug repellent - win-win! In terms of the specific coffee being consumed, you can always look for the source of it to see if it has been sustainably sourced or produced. You’ll find more and more cafes making a conscious effort to be sustainable in every aspect of their business which is fantastic to see.