We produce around 6 million tons of coffee waste worldwide each year, most of which ends up in landfills. Australia itself contributes an estimated 75,000 tonnes to that number, and it’s constantly increasing.
You just need to do a quick Google search to find that Melbourne’s right at the top of the list for the best coffee in the world, so no wonder we love our coffee. Instead of just drinking it to fuel us in the morning though, we can make even better use of those beans and do good for the planet at the same time.
I did some research and looked at a number of possible recycling options for used coffee grounds, and picked the top 8 ideas that work and seem easy enough to actually put into practise. Reading about this stuff is great, but actually doing it is what matters.
1. Compost it
This might not be your everyday conversation topic, but let’s learn a bit about creating the perfect compost.
Organic matter is made up of carbon and smaller amounts of nitrogen. The balance of these two elements in an organism is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Used coffee grounds add needed nitrogen to your compost (and your soil). However, you want to make sure not to add too much of it. Around 10 to 20 percent spent ground coffee of the total compost volume has been shown to have benefits for compost quality and effectiveness (such as a diversity of microorganisms), while over 30 percent can cause the opposite effect. Add an equivalent amount of carbon (such as dry leaves, shredded paper, wooden pieces) to your compost to balance the ratio of nitrogen to carbon.
A note on used coffee grounds as plant fertilizer
There is some controversial research on whether using spent coffee grounds for improved plant growth works or not. It is commonly believed that adding used coffee grounds to your garden soil acts as a natural fertilizer since the decomposing grounds release essential minerals such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium which are vital for plant growth. However, some scientific studies I’ve looked at show that adding spent coffee grounds to the soil decreases plant growth. This could be due to phytotoxicity, which means that naturally produced compound toxins injure plants. Another possible reason is the fact that coffee encourages the growth of microorganisms which use nitrogen for their growth and reproduction, reducing the total amount of nitrogen available to the plants needed for growth.
2. Drain cleaner
I’ve been doing this all along without even thinking about it. The gritty texture of the grounds and neutralising odour effects of coffee help to unclog and deodorize your sink. Just pour the mixture of hot water and old coffee grounds down the sink when doing your dishes.
According to some recipes I’ve found online, used coffee grounds work just as well as fresh ones in recipes, adding the perfect coffee flavour to your baking adventures. I haven’t tried this myself yet, but keen to give it a go soon.
4. Face and body scrub
I love using natural body products, so anything that’s natural AND has a positive, sustainable environmental impact comes top of the list.
There are lots of benefits to gently exfoliating your skin regularly, such as enhancing blood circulation and removing dead skin cells, which will help to keep your skin clean and encourage new healthy skin tissue to grow.
However, one of my favourite natural skincare brands, Dr Hauschka, advises against exfoliating and scrubbing your skin. Dr Hauschka believes that you can damage your skin by over-cleansing, using harsh scrubs, or exfoliating too often. More specifically, by doing so you interfere with your body’s natural mantle of oil and water, instead of letting your skin return to a natural renewing process and getting into balance on its own.
I’ve used Dr. Hauschka’s cleansing cream before (which cleanses and has a slightly gritty texture to it), which you don’t just rub onto your skin, but press down on your face and then gently roll your fingers from the inside out.
Keeping this in mind, you can create your own facial scrub using spent coffee grounds. Mix them with some olive or coconut oil and use as a face or body scrub.
5. Facial mask
Just as it works as a body scrub, coffee makes the perfect facial. Mix two tablespoons of used coffee grounds with an equal amount of organic cacao powder. Add three tablespoons of melted organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil and a tablespoon of honey for an all natural and antioxidant facial.
6. For your hair
Hair products like to stick around for a while and leave their residue. This builds up over time and weighs down on your hair. Use some old coffee grounds to rejuvenate your hair and restore its natural shine. Before shampooing massage a handful of used grounds into your hair. The coffee texture is coarse enough to break apart the product leftovers, but gentle enough to not damage your hair.
7. Cellulite treatment
This one’s similar to using coffee grounds as a body scrub. It won’t clear cellulite forever, but it can temporarily reduce the appearance of it.
Mix some used coffee grounds with warm water and let it soak for a few minutes. Then scrub your cellulite-affected body parts with it. The scrubbing motion increases circulation, making cellulite look less obvious. Plus, coffee grounds contain antioxidants, so they can increase collagen production, slowing down weakening of the skin.
8. Hand odour neutralizer
We’re all familiar with the annoying, sticky smell of garlic and onion on our hands after cooking with those ingredients. Coffee neutralises odour, so next time you keep smelling garlic after a great meal, grab some of that leftover ground coffee and rub your hands with it. (Chewing coffee beans is supposed to help with bad breath by the way).
Other amazing and powerful ways old coffee grounds are being used
Coffee is not only able to fuel our bodies in the morning, it can also be used to contribute tens of millions of liters of biodiesel to the global fuel supply. One company, Bio Bean, has taken this concept and turned it into a sustainable process. They recycle waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels, reducing waste and creating alternatives to fossil fuel. Something to keep up to date with and support!
Have you reused old coffee grounds before? If so, how? I’m keen to hear - share on Instagram or leave a comment below. Also let me know if you try any of the suggestions above and how it’s worked for you.