Fuelling debate

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How a pioneering bio-fuels company is turning Borough Market’s waste coffee grounds into a sustainable energy source

This week is Zero Waste Week, campaign designed to raise awareness of the environmental impact of waste.

The importance of waste reduction is a subject about which Borough Market has been extremely vocal in recent years, and its words have been matched by strong actions. Its mission is to put every leftover piece of food or packaging to the best possible use—to see raw materials where others see refuse. You can read more about the Market’s groundbreaking approach to waste here.

The Market’s latest initiative is a collaboration with bio-bean, a pioneering company that uses waste coffee grounds to create bio-fuels. Several of Borough’s coffee traders are on board. The company’s founder, Arthur Kay, says: “These are companies that already source all of their beans in an environmentally friendly, ethical way, so by working with us, they complete that cycle.”

We asked Arthur to fill us in on this exciting new element of the Market’s waste reduction plan.

How did your business come into being?
While studying architecture at UCL, I was set the task of designing a coffee shop. I discovered coffee grounds were pouring out of everywhere from coffee shops to train stations, in massive volumes—about 200,000 tonnes were going in the bin in London alone. So I set out to solve that.

And today?
Three years after setting up, we are a team of 30 people and have built the first waste coffee recycling factory in the world. Because we work with existing waste management infrastructure, the grounds are collected along with other waste by existing waste management vehicles—we haven’t added more vehicles to the road. We collect waste coffee from high street coffee shops, landmark buildings, even National Rail stations like Victoria and Waterloo.

Why coffee?
Coffee is a fascinating substance. You can make biodiesel, biomass pellets and our newest product, Coffee Logs (a direct replacement for wood fuel), from waste coffee grounds. You can actually make biofuels out of the most extraordinary stuff, but coffee is something everyone understands. It is easy to talk to people about.

How does the process work?
Waste coffee is dried at our factory, oils are extracted and the residual biomass is turned into biomass pellets and Coffee Logs.

What’s the main challenge you face?
The management system at some waste companies is from a different era—one in which this stuff is just dumped in the bin—and sometimes, the speed of decision-making can be a challenge. That said, there is more education now and things are changing—we are now working closely with almost every industry leader in the UK.

How sustainable is your approach?
There is a twofold saving: we are preventing emissions by offering a better form of disposal, and we are displacing emissions by replacing fossil fuels. If you consider the emissions journey of our product as starting when the grounds would otherwise be going in the bin, then from a coffee trader in Borough Market they go via an existing waste management vehicle to an aggregation point, to the factory, then become pellets or logs. Compared to any other form of waste disposal, bio-bean is both commercially and environmentally advantageous.