Drink your coffee and make money
There seems to be a mental process by which enterprising individuals come across the good old ‘used coffee grounds goldmine question’… “How is it that we generate millions of tonnes of used coffee grounds a year that go to landfill, and no one is trying to make money from it?”
This is not a new question, with literature highlighting the issue of spent
coffee waste going back a couple of hundred years at least. Many people have tried and tried again to make money from spent coffee grounds, and not too many of them seem to last at it for long.
The question for me has always been to approach the problem without the view of making money at all, but simply as an act of social good. That said, I didn’t know a thing about social enterprises a few years back, where a business is operated expressly for public or community benefit. The people in those businesses, and the profit maximization entrepreneurs, should be taking a very close look into the opportunities to be covered here.
This article covers five areas of interest – 1. Compost, 2. Vermicast & Worm Tea, 3. Compost Worms, 4. Biodiesel, and 5. Firelogs. We will look into how they work, pros and cons, level of difficulty, ETC.
Hopefully one of these appeals and you find the inspiration to give it a go. You may even be the first King Of Used Coffee Grounds!
I will provide links where appropriate, and name the business and individuals getting into certain niche markets. By running Ground to Ground (ps, this blog all about coffee grounds), I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with people from all over the world, in industries and professions as diverse as you can get – hospitality, waste management, environmental officers, baristas gardeners, fertilizer manufacturers, and so on and so forth.
OK so this might be the easiest so let’s start off with it. There are a few things you can do with coffee grounds and compost. Use coffee grounds along with other organic material to make compost – things like food scraps, lawn cuttings, fresh and dried leaves, shredded paper, rock dust, sand, bone meal, and so on. What you end up with is an amazing plant food all created by a totally natural process directed by armies of micro organisms and other specialized little critters (up to the size of a spider or snail).
Now that is great when you are doing it for yourself or the local community garden. Try making money from it and you might have a problem getting any kind of return on your investment.
Go into any hardware store (or even a supermarket or grocer these days), and they will be selling a 20 kilo bag of compost for $5 or less. I’ve even seen compost sold for as little as $3, sure it was low on quality but that is dirt cheap (pun intended). What price do you think the manufacturer of that compost sold the 20 kilo bag to the retailer for? At least half as much again. So if you think you can make money selling compost for $100 a tonne then this is the business for you.
Also, you will need to collect more than 1 tonne of organics to make 1 tonne of compost – in my experience it is about 30% due to water loss and the price of feeding all those little critters. Scale is important for things you intend to make money from and compost is no different. Let’s say you make your own compost to sell at some local markets – you collect the main ingredient for free, so can you make money from it? Someone already giving it a go is Karen Bullingham from Been Beanz Services in QLD Australia.
There are also schools that make their own compost (the photo above is from one that I supply used coffee grounds to), and they sell the finished product at fairs and special open days.
Vermicast & Worm Tea
These are listed together because for most gardeners they are essentially the same thing in different form. Vermicast is a solid mass of worm excreta (how often do you get a chance to use that word in a sentence), and worm tea is all of that goodness in liquid. The thing about vermicast is that it is sold at a premium in comparison to compost, so for example a 28 litre bag sells for $25 or a cubic metre for $350, which for this kind of material would weigh anywhere from half to three quarters of a tonne. So vermicast is sold at a distinct premium to compost, and if you can find a market for your worm poo then it might be an option.
Now just in case you are not aware of the epic wonders of vermicast, this site is worth a look. So why use coffee grounds for vermicast in the first place? You see, compost worms love them about as much as anything else on the planet, so what is happening here is that you get coffee grounds for zero and use that to create a product that sells for about $1 a kilo.
Compost Worms Following on from worm poo is the actual animal that makes it. Check out what live worms sell for at Wallmart - 10,000 go for about $100, which is 1 cent per worm. And closer to home (I’m an Aussie!), you can buy 1,200 of them for about $55, which is about 4.5 cents per worm. So here is another opportunity provided by the love of worms for coffee grounds.
If you are into collecting coffee grounds in any kind of quantity, you will have an excess of compost worms – thousands and thousands and thousands of them. A good contact for worm farming, vermicast, and coffee grounds is with Red Worm Composting, a great site that you will find helpful.
BioDiesel I’m not the first one to ever talk about the extraction of oil from used coffee grounds.
Indeed, this is one of those opportunities that will make someone the really big bucks. As this gentleman from Tunisia can aspire to be:
Science Daily have a good summary of how waste coffee grounds could become a
new source of biodiesel, and of interest is that the same process allows for the collection of ethanol and then at the last, composting material. From an extract published via the University of Nevada, ‘Spent coffee grounds as a versatile source of green energy’, (Kondamudi et al 2008), in which the abstract states:
The biodiesel derived from the coffee grounds (100% conversion of oil to biodiesel) was found to be stable for more than 1 month under ambient conditions. It is projected that 340 million gallons of biodiesel can be produced from the waste coffee grounds around the world. The coffee grounds after oil extraction are ideal materials for garden fertilizer, feedstock for ethanol, and as fuel pellets.
One of the most useful and detailed discussions of coffee grounds and biodiesel comes from Qingshi Tu in his thesis submission at the University of Cincinnati. This quote is within Tu’s problem statement (note that his reference to WCG is Waste Coffee Grounds):
So, through optimization of the oil extraction process, it could be commercially feasible to produce biodiesel from WCG. In addition, WCG has been proven effective for removing various pollutants in existing studies (details in Chapter 2). So it’s rational to expect that WCG (afterextraction) could also serve as the purification material to clean the crude biodiesel. Lastly, the spent WCGs (after oil extraction and purification) can also be used as an adjunct fuel in the biomass burner to supply energy to the biodiesel production facilities considering its high heating
Now here is an example of a company here and now that might actually be making some money from used coffee grounds, and that is Jarden Home Brands with their Java-log Firelogs. Not only do these guys save tonnes of coffee grounds from going to landfill, their product receives positive feedback as an effective firelog. The recipe would likely contain a combination of used coffee grounds, molasses, and waxes – plus plenty of industrial equipment.
Want to try to make your own firelogs? If you do then this is a decent recipe with some easy to follow steps. In keeping with this theme, the question is about how you would make money out of making firelogs. Well you would need to sell a heap of them to make anything out of it, just consider your start up costs and equipment – you wouldn’t be making a commercial grade product with that homemade recipe.
You could always track down the inventor of the Java Log, Rob Sprules, and find out how he managed to set himself up to the point where he could sell his business to Jarden.
The End of Part 1 is Just the Beginning!
OK guys, so you have joined me for 1600 odd words and there are still plenty more opportunities out there to profit from (hence this part 1 will soon be joined by a part 2). The trick with spent coffee grounds is understanding how versatile they are, how much of the stuff is available, what the costs are to move it from A to B, and then how to convert it into some other thing.
Even with the short list above, I hope you can appreciate that this one product can be used from compost to feeding words, fuel for a car or generator, food for worms, or a wood substitute for the campfire. If you consider the possibilities, get creative, and fill some vacant niche. Make it happen – save the world and get rich by doing it. If you need my help just reach out.
- Survey – Want to Collect Coffee Grounds But
Can’t Because… (groundtoground.org)
- Coffee Grounds are Worm Crack!
- Reusing Coffee Grounds as Wood Stain