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Grounds for Change

Let’s start the new year by being adults and facing a certain situation squarely: coffee making isn’t quite yet the most sustainable proposition on Earth. We may love it dearly (oh, yes) but like our favorite crazy relative, it’s got some issues. Take, for example, all those grounds.

After their sweet perfect essence is artfully extracted, there’s very nearly as much as there was to begin with. At home, we can compost these tiny piles of sweet roasted heaven and feed our lawns and gardens with what comes. But what if, say, you’re a big happy coffee company making cold brew by the custom kettle-load?

Proving that coffee and creativity go hand in hand, our British friends at bio-bean have come up with an impressive answer: take all those grinds and turn them into… fuel?

Indeed. They’re working with waste haulers and others to collect spent coffee grounds from cafes and manufacturers all over the United Kingdom. Once delivered to the world’s first coffee waste recycling facility, the mad geniuses at bio-bean somehow (science? alchemy? magic?) transform them into various forms of fossil fuel-free energy anyone can use.

Ground or not, this is no hill of beans either. Bio-bean is processing 50 kilotons a year—that’s one in ten cups of coffee drunk in the U.K.—into bio-pellets for heating building and bio-logs that burn longer, cleaner, and hotter than wood in fireplaces and wood stoves. Next up are bio-diesel and bio-chemicals. Who knows? Maybe soon our favorite beverage will power not just our own days but the whole world, too.

At this point, all this high-energy good stuff is only available in the U.K., but that doesn’t make this anything less than a winning tale in more ways than one—coffee makers and waste collectors save money by producing and dumping less waste; and the environment gets a zero-waste, carbon-neutral energy source that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The rest of us get a cup with cream not guilt.

Talk about waking up and smelling the coffee. We’ll take ours by the light of the bio-bean fire, thank you.


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