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A conversation with Matt Keniston of bio-bean about making waste coffee grounds sustainable
by Aimee Rigby/3rd-October-2020
Welcome to Zero Waste Kode, would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi. I’m Matt. I’m head of commercials for the renewables part of Bio Bean, which is a company set up to recycle spent coffee grounds
And what exactly does Bio Bean do?
What do we do? We were set up with the sole goal of reducing the amount of spent coffee grounds being wasted, predominantly going to landfill.
But we see spent coffee grounds as a very valuable resource; letting them rot down in landfill is a waste because we can produce various products from spent coffee grounds.
And how did Bio Bean become the world’s largest recycler of coffee grounds? So, what is the story behind Bio Bean?
Okay, founded in 2013, so 7 years old. Basically, an architecture student studying at UCL in London was tasked with looking at the coffee shop. Arthur very quickly realised there was a lot of coffee waste coming out of a coffee shop. 50% of the actual waste is spent coffee grounds. Arthur took those coffee grounds into the laboratory where he gave it to the guys and girls in white coats and basically said, you know, what is in this? They were very quick to discover that a lot of the aromatic flavours and fragrance compounds are still there, it’s rich in oil, high calorific value, and it’s got, sort of, you know, the carbon content- it’s got lots of valuable attributes.
So, how much coffee is wasted a year and how much do you, as Bio Bean, save from going to landfill?
We save as much as we can. But, it’s still a fraction of what is being wasted. So, it gives us a, you know, it gives us a lot of ambition to get our hands on more, which is great. And then if you think in the UK, 90 million cups of coffee are drunk every day, and you know, a typical barista, in a coffee shop when you may have your latte, your flat white, your cappuccino; that generates about somewhere between 20 and 30 grammes of waste per cup. So, I’m not going to do the maths in my head, but 90 million times 30 grammes is a lot of coffee (2,700 tonnes per day!). A conservative estimate is about 500,000 tonnes of coffee waste in the UK every year, and that’s generated, yeah, a lot of that is generated in the home with people with their cafetieres, and their aero presses, and their mocha pots; a lot of that is the instant coffee manufacturers that take in the green beans, roast them, and make instant coffee. And then a lot of that is in the coffee shops, but that is you know, now every High Street has several but also the train stations, the airport, coffee’s everywhere.
Matt Keniston, Commercial Head of bio-bean
So, what makes coffee a sustainable alternative to traditional fuel sources?
Well, coffee primarily was going to landfill. So, you know, having no benefit at all. So, if you can actually use that resource, and use that to heat your homes, you’re actually, you know, you’re displacing what people would have used to heat their homes. You can make a very easy comparison, or a very favourable comparison, against things like coal. We all know coal is bad, coal is a fossil fuel, should be left in the ground, every time you burn coal you release lots of new CO2 into the atmosphere. So, you know, replacing coal with a coffee log is an absolute no-brainer. But, you know, we work very well alongside, you know, trying to displace people burning wood on their wood burner at home, because well-managed, seasoned firewood is a positive thing. Compared to traditional things like house coal, even mineral fuels, any fossil fuels, the CO2 saving by using a coffee log is phenomenal.
So, can you tell me a bit about your coffee logs? So how are they made, and how do they work?
Yeah, so, I guess a bit about the process, we collect coffee from the large coffee chains, the small coffee shops, University campuses, railway stations, airports, and the industrial producers, so that coffee all comes into us and that coffee is 50/60% moisture. So, the first thing we need to do is dry that coffee. So, our raw material really starts when we’ve decontaminated the coffee and when we’ve dried it. So, what we’ve got then is coffee that’s clean and dried down to about 10% moisture. Then we can start using that to make our various products, both the coffee logs, that we take… The coffee log is about 60 to 70% coffee and then 30 to 40% sawdust. We add sawdust- sawdust is a by-product we get from local sawmills. But that is basically the ingredients. So, 60/70% coffee and the rest is sawdust. The sawdust we need, when you compress coffee, it needs something to bind around. So, we add the sawdust as a binder- it’s not to help it burn, it’s literally just to hold it together. So, we’ve got three machines now, three briquette machines, which are… no one else is creating logs in the way we do, at the scale we do. Basically, we take the sawdust and the coffee grounds and that’s compressed under a tremendous amount of pressure and basically pushed through a machine and that’s where we get our coffee logs. You get a bag of coffee logs, which weigh just under 8 kilos, and that’s got 16 logs in. That’s a bag of coffee logs!
So, how are your coffee pellets made and how do they work?
So, the coffee pellets are industrial fuel. So, that’s basically to… we’ve got customers that have, for example, greenhouses growing salad crop for supermarkets. Typically, in the winter, they need to keep those green houses at a temperature. A lot of them were burning oil, or natural gas, that heat their greenhouses. A lot of them have switched to biomass boilers; and we can actually use our pellets in a biomass boiler. So, a coffee pellet is basically a little coffee log. There’s no sawdust in there, that’s a different process, but basically, it’s a mini log.
So, do you sell more of your elements on an industrial level or on a consumer level?
At the moment, we are selling, putting more of our spent coffee grounds into coffee logs for the best market; purely because that’s where we found the market is, at the moment. So, now we’re selling our coffee logs in Morrison’s and Waitrose, and B&Q and Wickes, as well as large garden centres, in fact small garden centres we’re selling our coffee logs in deli’s, in food shops and farm shops.
Above images; biofuel burns using bio-beans coffee logs, raw coffee beans and recycle plant
Why should businesses, or individuals, switch to using coffee logs? What are the benefits?
The benefit is, you know, especially if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ve got to take responsibility for that waste. So, I love my coffee and if I’m in London for example, I’ll have three or four cups of coffee a day. Knowing that that coffee is hopefully being collected, aggregated in London, and then ultimately comes to our facility and then turned into fuel; is great.
I don’t want to be contributing to coffee waste going to landfill.
So, when I’m in London, I pick where I get a cup of coffee very carefully. So, you know, it’s great as a coffee drinker to know that my waste is being repurposed into something good. Also, coffee logs are a fantastic fuel. So, many people the UK, you know, they might have full central heating at home, but they have a stove in the front room which they use once or twice a week. They may not have room for a big wood pile, so it’s a very compact, highly calorific, meaning it burns very hot, it burns very long, so it’s a great fuel and you know that you’re doing something good for the environment at the same time.
Out of interest, do they smell any different to usual logs?
It’s a question we get asked a lot, and funnily enough I’ve been told that the sense of smell is the most suggestible of all of our senses. If I tell you that when you have a coffee log fire that it smells like coffee, you will probably believe it and tell me it sounds like cappuccino. So, when you open a bag of coffee logs and you put your nose in there, you know the coffee logs are from coffee. That doesn’t necessarily translate into the smoke though. If you imagine a coffee bean is already roasted, so it’s almost on its way to becoming charcoal anyway. So, I believe that the smoke you get from a coffee log is somewhere between woodsmoke an coffee.
Finally, where can our listeners purchase your coffee logs or coffee pellets?
The coffee logs, at the moment… So, the coffee pellets are very much a sort commercial B2B product. You won’t find those in stores. But the coffee logs are available at all good retailers. So, I think we’re in Morrison’s, Waitrose, at B&Q, and Wickes. We’re also in lots of the big garden centres, and farm shops, deli’s… but also, we’ve got an online presence so we’re on Amazon, Ocado, eBay, etcetera. On our website, there is a stockist map where you can put your post code in, and that will be up and running in a couple of weeks, once everyone’s got all their stocks in ready to go. So, yeah, head for the website, put your post code in, that will tell you where you can buy coffee logs.
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Lovely, thank you for having me Aimee. Thank you.