Should coffee waste be grounds for concern?

By Federico Lubrani, Chair, Slow Food Glasgow

Federico Lubrani, Chair, Slow Food Glasgow

Coffee is one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages and its production generates large impacts, mostly because of the strong delocalization between the areas of production (the so-called coffee belt) and the areas of consumption. Very little is known about what happens before and after drinking our cup of coffee, so it’s great to see awareness being raised through Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s Grounds for Recycling initiative.

Almost two years ago Slow Food created the Coffee Coalition, an open network connecting all the actors involved in the coffee supply chain, from farmers to consumers. The aim is to build connections and improve the relationship between producers, the most fragile party in the chain, and other actors involved in coffee production, including importers, roasters, and baristas.

While embarking on the set up of this network in Scotland and after hosting events of public engagement on food waste, Slow Food Glasgow saw merit in joining forces with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce to address the issue of coffee waste through its circular economy focused campaign, Grounds for Recycling.

The by-product of our beloved coffee cups produces tons of carbon dioxide when not correctly managed. Used coffee grounds are currently thrown away or, in the best-case scenario, separated into the organic collection for fertilizer or compost production. There are currently several methods available for their management and valorisation routes, including incineration (with electricity and heat generation), landfilling (with biogas recovery for electricity generation), anaerobic digestion (with electricity production and digestate use in agriculture), composting, and direct application. Different approaches to the same problem, some more valid than others.

As a way of raising the issue of used coffee grounds, Slow Food Glasgow will work in partnership with the Grounds for Recycling team to engage with those who work within the food and drink sector, sharing knowledge and resources.  Most of these assets and tools were developed together with Glasgow Food Policy Partnership to create The Glasgow Sustainable Food Directory and its document Sustainable Resources during the run-up to COP26.  We’re delighted to that this now established project is heading towards its 3rd edition.

In this coffee waste journey, it will be important to focus on the many beneficial ways used coffee can be successfully repurposed, negating the current environmental and social costs before and after the consumption.