Ever wondered what happens to all those coffee grounds after the water’s run through it to make your cappuccino? Of course, it goes to landfill. We drink about 80 million cups of coffee every day, and that’s just the UK. But what else can you do with used coffee grounds?
One social enterprise has discovered a beautiful solution. At GroCycle, Adam and Eric have been using waste coffee since 2011 to grow gourmet Oyster mushrooms. Sounds weird, right? Well, according to Adam, the ‘traditional’ way to grow mushrooms is on straw and sawdust, so it’s not that weird after all.
In social enterprise schemes positive outcomes aren’t measured against monetary gains but environmental or social good. GroCycle are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company – all the money they make goes straight back towards making beneficial changes in the way we live. Their aim is pretty simple: to keep coffee waste out of landfill.
In their first year they collected 5 tonnes of the stuff. “We definitely got some strange looks when walking into some cafes and asking for their coffee waste to grow mushrooms on! But after we explain it, almost every café is really supportive and they’re happy to see their waste go to good use.” On top of finding a use for the waste, Adam says that “the brewing process pasteurises the grounds, making it an easier way to grow the mushrooms than the traditional method.”
In the early days they’d experimented growing other kinds of mushrooms like Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, King Oyster and Pioppino, but it was only the Oyster mushrooms that could grow on pure coffee. “Oyster mushrooms are well known to grow on lots of different substrates so if any mushrooms can grow on coffee, it’ll be them!”
From collecting 5 tonnes of coffee in their first year, last year GroCycle produced 5 tonnes of gourmet Oyster mushrooms, all from recycled coffee! They used more than 20,000 kilos of waste grounds – with a humble team of four people. “Although we are a small team, we are beginning to have a big impact,” Adam says. “More than 7000 people grew their own mushrooms at home with our kits, and we now run a popular online course which teaches people in 35 countries around the world how to grow mushrooms on coffee. This is a big part of what we’re about: spreading and teaching the idea to others.”
A big part of this is the way GroCycle is run, and Adam tells me he’d always seen business as a potential driver for positive change. “The motto ‘trading for people and planet’ is used by the Social Enterprise Mark, which we are accredited by, and I think it fits the bill perfectly. GroCycle achieves a meaningful social and environmental benefit in the work that we do.”
That benefit is partly achieved by the locality of the project; they’re now regularly collecting waste coffee from the five biggest cafés in Exeter city centre. For Adam, sourcing our food more locally is an integral part of forging a more sustainable future. “It’s an incredibly important part of how we can begin to reduce our impact on the planet and create a vibrant food economy. When you eat food that has been produced locally it will usually have consumed less energy, it’ll be fresher, it’ll taste better, and you will be supporting the people in your local community that are growing it.”
“Our biggest aim for the years ahead is to support others in countries around the world to set up growing mushrooms in a low impact way. We have built so much knowledge over the last few years and are often asked if we can assist people and offer advice. As a small non-profit organisation it can often be difficult to have enough time for this, but we have found teaching via an online course a great way to do it. We are currently planning a flagship course which will launch later this year. It’ll teach people how to set up grow rooms, and cover the practicalities and economics of production.”