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Coffee Curbing Climate Change

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Opportunity is brewing.  Four hundred billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each year.  In the United States alone, people consume 450 million cups of coffee each day.  That’s a lot of coffee!  In fact, coffee is the most popular addiction with over a billion people worldwide consuming at least one cup daily. More stats on that are here!

Where do all the coffee grounds, the residue left behind from all that brewing, go?  Most of it ends up in landfills where it gets compressed with other trash and inorganic matter, taking longer than necessary to break down and eventually emitting greenhouse gases. Some environmentally-conscious citizens choose to compost their grounds and cycle it through their gardens.  But that solution is not available to everyone.

Remco Addink and Lisanne Addink-Dölle are a couple from the Netherlands on the cutting edge of repurposing this waste and converting used coffee grinds into functional products through their innovative business, Coffee Based. .  Their business not only promotes sustainability with durable products made from “waste” materials but also provides inspiration to their customers.

The pair are quite a team, making the world a better, more beautiful place for generations to come as they turn trash into treasures!  Lisanne studied industrial design engineering and utilizes her knowledge and experience in the field of upcycling and sustainability. Remco is a mechanical engineer with a background in renewable energy technology.  Together, they’re working to design and develop successful processes, turning leftovers from industry into practical and playful products.  Their diverse skills and background complement each other like coffee and cream, with her focusing on sales and strategic partnerships while he is responsible for production and commercial feasibility.

“It doesn’t matter where you live or what you study, everybody can make a change to make the world more beautiful.” – Lisanne Addink-Dölle

As a young and passionate college student who dreamt of endless possibilities, Lisanne realized she could make a tangible difference in this world beyond the aesthetic beauty of design.  She says that it’s about the choices we make, asking ourselves, “What can I do?  What skills do I have?”  The items produced by Coffee Based simultaneously serve as sustainable education, useful products, and creative talking pieces for the customers.  In his interview with Heart of Waraba, Remco shared how we can find new ways to use things instead of throwing them away giving the example that even a simple glass bowl in their shop once had a previous life as the door of a washing machine. 

Waste Transforms Into a Wanted Treasure

Utilizing their skills to make a positive impact, this dynamic couple was at the frontline of the sustainability mission before sustainability was such a hot topic. Sustainability has always been one of their passions, and now they’ve found a business model that works. They’ve learned to tell a good story that challenges people to look at waste in a different way. 

The Dutch consume more coffee per capita than any other country in the world, so the Netherlands is the perfect place to start this innovative business.

Coffee Based joined forces with Prezero to develop a coffee grounds recycling service for the business market which targets large companies with many coffee drinking employees. Collected grounds are reprocessed into products like notebooks, table lamps, the lucky cup, tables, plant pots, and more.  They also design custom products for their clients like Nespresso (such as coasters and a coaster holder set), and their portfolio of creations is expanding in both variety and scale of the products.  They are now in the process of creating new models such as wall panels, trays, and furniture all made of coffee grounds.

The Roots and Closing the Loop

In 2011, co-founder Lisanne Addink-Dölle founded VerdraaidGoed!, a young design agency that designed, manufactured, and sold sustainable products.  They made use of factory residuals as much as possible, so waste was immediately reduced. Their products were also made in the Netherlands by people with disabilities or without work experience making the endeavor a win-win for both people and planet.  They matched the repurposing possibilities for the waste with the needs of the company from where it came, creating a circular economy and closing the loop right at the source.

A sustainability ethic runs deep in the Dutch culture, and there are endless tangible examples of waste elimination in both the public and private sectors.    Here is one example that inspired Lisanne:  Placards in a train station, which become waste when the time of a train changes, are hard to recycle.  Undeterred, the train station managers upcycled the signs into tables.

The blue economy highlights new business models which make more from less, inspiring sustainable creations. Do you know the familiar motto, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”? The blue economy takes it a few steps further and represents a system that operates by “Reduce. Reuse. Repair. Recreate. Recycle.” Many companies only make one product and produce waste (for example beer); however, there is so much more that can be produced from what those companies see as waste. Oyster mushrooms are grown on coffee grounds, but this is just one of the e limitless other potential products to be created from coffee grounds.  When Lisanne and Remco co-founded Coffee Based, the idea of “loop goods” was a foundational principle for the company.

One of the benefits of Coffee Based’s business model is that its products can be used in place of polyethylene, which is made from fossil carbon and is the most widely used plastic in the world. 

Replacing conventional oil-based plastics, but are safer since they leach no persistent chemicals.  Renewable carbon plastics can be three to four times more expensive than non-renewable ones, but the responsible choice is worth every penny. The Coffee Based founders wanted to make products locally to make an immediate impact close to home, but they have also made a global impact by contributing to a sustainable planet.  As the saying goes, “think globally, act locally.”

Espresso-like Excitement

One of the early thrills for the couple came the first time they succeeded in actually making a material out of coffee grounds. The first product was a coffee cup made from coffee grounds. For those who love their cup of jo, there is no beverage container that could be a match!

It was a caffeine rush for Lissane and Remco the moment they started working with Nespresso Global.  This behemoth client contributed to scaling up the business, processing more volume, and converting them into new products.

Products began being sent out into the world, enabling Coffee Based to tell a story about what can be done with the waste.  They were able to educate average citizens on the impacts of recycling waste materials sourced from companies all over the world.  A company culture that promotes compassion for the planet pulls in customers who want to be conscious about their purchases. People are inherently drawn to a good cause, so they get excited about making a difference by supporting Coffee Based. After all, we must live like every action we take matters.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Remco and Lissanne create the designs along with their small team of seven to nine people at Coffee Based. The marketing is also done in-house but the actual production is outsourced to local manufacturers.  Coffee grounds are sent to manufacturers to be processed using compounding materials, injection molding process, excursion, and laser-cutting. Everything is done in the Netherlands, creating a supply chain that is sustainable, local, and supports other companies.

Navigating challenges have also made the team stronger.   As with any innovation, the team has experienced rejection of the concept and concerns that coffee grounds might harm the manufacturing equipment.  However, these passionate entrepreneurs have overcome this by partnering with reliable companies. The machines in use have proven to consistently create coffee masterpieces!

The Future of Coffee Based

In a circular economy, you are not a lone ranger;  you work together with others. Coffee Based is happy to have created an ecosystem of companies to manage the coffee grounds recycling supply chain.    This network is the foundation they need to continue to grow and expand the difference that they make in the world. 

With billions of us drinking coffee every day, the market potential for Coffee Based is huge.  Keep an eye on Lissane and Remco.  They are making the world more sustainable one cup of coffee at a time.

Stay up to date with the creations of Coffee Based through their official site: https://www.coffeebased.nl/en/home-2/. (Photos credits to this site for the last five images as well.)

Bonus!

A few things you can do at home with your coffee grounds:

Fertilizer—use small amounts to add to your plants.

Cleaning Dishes—coffee grounds are less abrasive than steel wool and are great for scrubbing dishes

Deodorizer—put a small bowl of coffee grounds in the refrigerator or around the house to absorb odors

Dye—mix in hot water to create a vintage dye for paper or fabric [works great on t-shirts]

Body Scrub—5 pts coffee ground, 3 pts coco oil, 1 pt cinnamon.  Coffee helps clean the skin and removes dead skin cells, and the antioxidants and caffeine helps improve blood circulation near the skin.  Coconut oil moisturizes and the cinnamon protects the skin.

Ice Cream topper—Sprinkle some coffee grounds over ice cream, pour a little rum on top and enjoy!

Other companies doing some incredible things with coffee grounds:

Coffee-logs.co.uk  They make coffee logs that burn 20% hotter and longer than wood.  Perfect for the campfire or for wood stoves used to heat homes.

Bio-bean.com uses biofuels from coffee grounds to power homes and businesses in the UK.

Kaffeeforms.com makes coffee cups out of coffee grounds that are lightweight and dishwasher safe.

Ochiscoffee.com made the first sunglasses out of coffee grounds.  They use a digital machine to cut the dye and then hand polish them.  These sunglasses are water resistant and lightweight.

Heather Hough
Author: Heather Hough

I am a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in Environmental Studies - Sustainability Track with a minor in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. My passions include leading communities to understand their environmental impact and contributing to a healed world through innovative ideas. With an entrepreneurial mindset, I am keen on taking initiative and exploring all possibilities for innovation to lead to a better world.

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