Waste management is a surprisingly complex topic. At LEON we’ve spent more hours discussing bins than we’d really care to count, but we also know it’s entirely worthwhile so we can understand how to get better at recycling and managing waste streams.
One of the trickiest parts of managing waste streams is making sure it doesn’t get contaminated. For example, we serve our food in compostable and biodegradable boxes, but we can’t recycle these unless we separate the clean cardboard from any food waste or food-stained greaseproof paper.
Which is why coffee is a great place to start. We grind our coffee beans fresh for every espresso we make, and dispose of the used ground beans into a little coffee ‘chute’ that we designed into our coffee sections. This means our used coffee is a pure, uncontaminated waste stream: perfect for recycling.
Where we manage our own waste (sometimes the landlords insist on doing it for us), we work with a waste company called Veolia. They collect our special waste-coffee bags and pass them on to Bio-Bean, a tech start-up, who are recycling our coffee and turning it into carbon-neutral biofuels and biochemicals.
The UK produces 500,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year. We drink a lot of coffee. And most of this is disposed of via landfill where it emits methane, a greenhouse has 28x more potent than carbon dioxide. But, with Bio-Bean, we’re able to turn a waste product into something sustainable.
We haven’t quite closed the loop yet. We’d love to find a way to power LEON with Bio-Bean’s fuel – to become literally powered by coffee – but we’ll keep trying. This is the start of something bigger, because it forces us to rethink waste as not something to be disposed of, but something that’s just in the wrong place at the moment. Something that we could make useful again.