Julian Mitchell and Ryan Creed live and breathe the proverb “waste not, want not”.
Earlier this year the former health professionals turned waste entrepreneurs started Life Cykel, a business dedicated to reducing coffee waste by using it to grow mushrooms.
Julian says it was after reading Mycologist Paul Stamet’s presentation Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World that he had a “lightbulb moment”.
“[Paul] talked about food production and mentioned the volume of coffee waste and its potential to be a good nutrient for fungi growth,” Julian says. “I did some research, read his books, conducted some trials, and found a business proposition that could work.”
Together with Ryan, they crowd-funded their campaign to start an urban mushroom farm, received $30,000 in donations, and made the idea a reality.
“I never realised how much coffee is wasted,” Julian says. “Each year about 300 tonnes of coffee waste from Fremantle goes to landfill.”
Julian and Ryan visit cafés daily, including MayStreet Larder, Gesha Coffee Co, and restaurant Bib and Tucker in Fremantle to collect leftover ground coffee. In preparation for their arrival, the coffee waste must be chilled at 4°C. Once collected, it’s taken to the urban farm – housed in three 12-metre shipping containers – and mixed with mushroom spores.
“The mushrooms eat the coffee grounds. It’s about a three-week incubation period, 21 days’ formation, and six weeks later the oyster mushrooms are ready to consume,” Julian says. “Coffee is rich in nitrogen content, so as a soil it has a high nutrient value for the mushrooms to thrive. There’s also minimal water used, no electricity needed or pesticides applied, unlike other farmed produce.”
Julian says there’s a certain art and science to growing mushrooms. The reason his team can do it well is because the mushrooms are monitored in a controlled environment with the right airflow, sterility, hygiene, and humidity.
“We tried growing other varietals of mushrooms with the coffee grounds, but none of them worked as well, nor were as tasty as the oyster mushroom species,” Julian says.
To date, Life Cykel produces 55 kilograms of mushrooms each week, and Julian anticipates this figure will exceed 100 kilograms come Christmas. Life Cykel is crowd-funding for urban mushroom farms in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, from 15 August to 15 September. It is also selling Mushroom Boxes for people to grow their own tasty and nutritious mushrooms at home using infused coffee grounds.
“There’s no simple formula to reducing coffee waste, but I do think in the next five years we’ll start to see it become a viable product for people to use and recycle, not just us,” Julian says.
Over in London, bio-bean has become the first company in the world to industrialise the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels and biochemicals.
n In 2015, company CEO Arthur Kay opened the world-first waste coffee grounds recycling factory inside a 1850-square-metre former aircraft hanger in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom.
“As an architecture student at The Bartlett [University College London] I was set the task of designing a coffee shop. I quickly realised that coffee was being wasted everywhere and set out to address the problem,” Arthur says.
He soon discovered that coffee has a very high oil content and calorific value, making it an ideal candidate to be converted into biofuel.
“It’s unique in some respects because it is separated at source – the barista taps it out usually into a separate knockout box. Unlike tea, for instance, this makes it possible to collect in urban areas,” Arthur says.
London produces more than 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste annually, which is diverted to landfill. To help lower this rate, bio-bean collects waste coffee grounds from waste management companies that visit in excess of 300 sites each day, including coffee shops, office blocks, restaurants, transport hubs, and factories around London. Arthur says while the volume of coffee waste varies at each site, some of its larger clients supply thousands of tonnes of coffee waste each year.
The waste grounds are dried and crushed at the factory, before undergoing chemical and mechanical processes to remove oils from the coffee. Innovative methods are used to process the waste grounds into advanced biofuel products. This includes biodiesel used to power vehicles, biomass pellets and briquettes, used in biomass boilers to heat buildings, coffee logs, and in the near future, biochemicals, all of which are supplied back to businesses.
Arthur says the green energy company is saving businesses money, while achieving sustainability goals and increasing transparency in their waste disposal. It’s helping divert waste from landfill and incineration, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, and methane production.
“Bio-bean has gone from an experimental idea to small-scale production to building the world’s first waste coffee recycling factory. It has the capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds each year, or one in 10 cups of coffee drunk in the UK,” Arthur says.
Each dried tonne can produce up to 200 litres of biodiesel and 800 kilograms of biomass pellets. “[The end goal] is to expand internationally and be globally-recognised as the solution for waste coffee grounds disposal,” Arthur says.
As such, Arthur adds it’s time to start seeing coffee as a sustainable product and replacement to conventional fuels and chemicals. “In the future, waste will be a thing of the past, a redundant word we no longer need to use,” he says. “Coffee is an easy starting block because everyone loves it so much.”