After your morning coffee has become a happy memory, does the spent grounds languish in a landfill, add nitrogen to a garden, or turn into energy (and we’re not talking about drinker energy? Coffee) ? It all depends on where you get your dose.
With support from commercial pick-up services and gardening customers, Maine coffee shops and roasters have found creative ways to keep fluffy straw and those buckets of steaming grounds from adding to the waste stream. Many owners are home gardeners who cite their enthusiasm for being environmentally friendly as the reason they strive to make their businesses green. Although some lack the space or budget for commercial compost removal services, all agreed that a consistent and reliable disposal plan for coffee-making byproducts is essential.
Over three decades of brewing, Wild Oats Bakery & Café of Brunswick has tested many ways to dispose of its spent coffee beans: “Pig farmers, vermicomposters, gardeners, commercial anaerobic digesters and commercial composters” , said owner Becky Shepherd.
Today, the bakery sends soil along with other food scraps to We Compost It!, an Auburn-based company that does 350 to 400 pickups a week in the area, then sells its finished compost to organic farms and retail and wholesale garden centres. We compost it! Chief executive Bill Crawford said the company counts many Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, independent coffee shops such as Bard Coffee in Portland and Elements: Books Coffee Beer in Biddeford, and select Holy Donut stores among its customers.
Typically mixed with other food scraps before being turned into compost, coffee grounds provide organic matter that microbes feed on, nitrogen that will become available to plants upon decomposition, and small amounts of micronutrients, according to Caleb Goossen, culture and conservation. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association specialist.
Debris on the ground
Portland-based Garbage to Garden’s fleet of 15 trucks are picked up at 10,000 residential and business addresses each week in Maine and Massachusetts, including about three dozen coffee shops and cafes. He works with partner farms to turn his kitchen waste into nutrient-rich soil that eventually fuels the vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in his customers’ gardens.
“Many of our attendees are passionate about gardening, and receiving finished compost…is an important aspect of our service,” said Annika Schmidt, Marketing Manager of Garbage to Garden.
According to co-founder Will Pratt, Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters uses Garbage to Garden in its baking and Agri-Cycle Energy in its roasting. Scratch Bakery Co. and its subsidiary, Toast Bar — both temporarily closed — are also working with Agri-Cycle, said Scratch co-owner Bob Johnson. Agri-Cycle’s anaerobic composting techniques generate biogas which, in turn, is converted into electricity and heat.
Cafes estimate that each day they generate as little as 10-15 pounds of spent coffee grounds during the slower winter season and up to 100 pounds in the summer.
“I can’t believe how much we’d be throwing away if it wasn’t for the amazing local composting businesses we have here,” Pratt said. “We really rely on them and certainly don’t take them for granted.”
Elements co-owner Katie Pinard agrees. “We love the service, and the cost is worth it to us,” she said of We Compost It!, which costs her about $68 a week.
“Choosing to compost in-store has also led us to take the initiative to ensure that all of our paper supplies and take-out containers are compostable, which we have done gradually over time,” she said. said, “and our customers have expressed appreciation for these efforts. The amount of organic matter we generate is an enormous physical burden to redirect from the landfill stream to the compost stream, not to mention its contribution to local soil health. on the consumer side. It’s just the right thing to do.
A few blocks east, Time & Tide regularly refills customers’ containers with the day’s grind and can start sending pitches to a local community garden, thanks to a regular who coordinates the space. Many independent coffee shops, such as Yordprom Coffee Co. in Portland’s West End, also give away spent land to customers for free. Even Starbucks has been in the game for over 25 years with its Grounds for Your Garden program. Just ask nicely and grab a big bag of grounds anytime.
But don’t just throw them into your garden mindlessly. “I would advise against adding (the soils) directly to the soil someone was about to sow in, as they have the potential to inhibit or negatively impact seed germination,” Goossen warned. from MOFGA.
Separating the beans from the chaff
In addition to spent grounds, coffee roasters generate another waste product: chaff, the “silver skin” of coffee, similar to the paper husk of a peanut, which comes loose during the roasting process.
Time & Tide co-owner Jon Phillips said a UPS delivery man who is an avid gardener picks up the chaff every few weeks for garden mulch. At the Kingfield-based Carrabassett Coffee Company, “we have three different people who periodically come by to pick up a truckload of them” for the compost, said the company’s Jared Frigon, estimating the roaster produces 60 to 90 pounds of straw per week.
At 44 North Coffee microroaster on Deer Isle, staff use the odor-absorbing material in worm bins, outhouses and chicken coops. “The straw is so high in nitrogen,” said co-owner Megan Wood. “It’s a great material, really soft and warm – the hens love it.”
Portland-based Coffee by Design donates both chaff and soil directly to local farms and community gardens. Similarly, Downshift Coffee in Belfast brings its grind directly to Daisychain Farm, also in Belfast, where they feed strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins and apples from the farm. Consistency is key to the success of such programs, according to the two owners.
“You have to be able to handle the logistics to rotate every day of the summer,” said Downshift owner Nathaniel Baer. “You don’t want to suddenly find yourself with 300 pounds of ground and nowhere to go.”
Coffee by Design co-founder Mary Allen Lindemann agreed, “Zero waste is the goal. We have always believed that farmers already had enough expenses. It gets tricky… If people don’t recover in a timely manner, it molds.
When composting is not an option
Some cafes dump their floors with their usual waste, citing obstacles to composting: small spaces, logistics and the cost of commercial collection services. Even with such challenges, there are ways to at least minimize what goes into the waste stream.
The internet suggests that spent grinds can become “coffee charcoal” to fuel a grill.
In Bangor, Wicked Brew co-owner Carrie Holt is throwing tons of bread on the city’s icy sidewalks for a paw-friendly salt substitute.
And there are short-lived garden uses for compost. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that the grind deters slugs and snails, said MOFGA’s Goossen: “I would suggest that the effect – if present – would likely be strongest with cooler soils and would wear off. probably quickly as rain and general decay reduced the aroma. compounds present in the soil.
Spent shreds can also be incorporated directly into the soil as a light mulch around established plants. It won’t have a big effect on soil pH, Goossen added, despite the “myths” online. “The impact would probably be almost completely imperceptible,” he said. “Most of the coffee’s acidity is leached into the coffee itself, and the grounds likely end up with a near-neutral pH after decomposition, regardless of the starting pH.”
Alison McConnell is a writer, musician, artist, and novice farmer living in Auburn.
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