A Sit Down with Reground

A Sit Down with Reground

Continuing our deep dive into the world of sustainable initiatives, today we take a closer look at the social enterprise Reground. Reground's objective is to reduce contributions to landfill in the form of ground coffee and chaff. To achieve this mammoth goal, Reground have implemented a wastage collection system to divert coffee waste back to communities for a multitude of uses and benefits.

We sat down with Fiona from Reground, to discuss coffee waste and the ways they are providing strategies and solutions to businesses, councils and commercial sites across Victoria.

What are the biggest contributors towards coffee waste?
In terms of post-consumer waste, this is a fairly static item - we are talking about chaff, a by-product of the roasting process, and coffee grounds. Without asking people to drink less coffee - something we would never do! - managing this waste responsibly is more about finding ways to utilise these materials as resources instead of treating them as waste.

To a lesser degree, and more in the hands of baristas and store managers - we can talk about efficiencies related to reducing wastage of milk as well as of fresh coffee beans; this applies to Roaster's too, in that any roasts that do not go to profile and cannot be served still need to be managed well and to find the best possible environmental outcomes.
What are some roadblocks roasters come across when dealing with types of coffee waste?
The first hurdle - and one of the hardest ones to overcome, is simply in seeing coffee waste as something potentially valuable and in knowing enough about our waste systems here in Australia, to know that landfill is a terrible outcome for rich organic material like coffee.

Once you have that awareness, the next barrier is access. Although we are expanding, Reground's certified community service is currently only available in Victoria; for Roasters outside of our reach who realise the value of managing their organic waste well, they need to seek (or establish) another means of getting their coffee back into the soil locally. For some, they are able to set up direct relationships with local farms or gardens - for others, this will mean adding a food and organics collection to their waste contract. Waste contractors (most of them huge, multi-national for-profit companies) transport organic material long distances and use a lot of energy to process it, so this is far from ideal. Where possible, it's always better to manage waste locally, and with coffee we have the particular opportunity to do this in a way that is hyper-local, low-emissions and directly benefits the local community: this is why Reground's service is the gold standard.
What most people don't know is that for every kilo of coffee beans a cafe consumes, over 4 kilos of methane is emitted when the coffee breaks down in landfill conditions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is even more harmful than carbon dioxide (at least 28 times more harmful, in fact) and of course those emissions figures don't even speak to the loss of resources. We know that disposing of ground coffee sustainably is one of the biggest (and also easiest!) changes that a cafe or roaster can make to improve their impact on the world.
In terms of systems, coffee and chaff are uniquely easy to manage because from the point that each is created as a waste item, they are already kept separate from other materials (the ground coffee in the knock chute and the chaff in the chaff collector.) This makes it really easy to keep these materials clean and uncontaminated.

What initiatives can roasters access to help curb or divert coffee waste from landfill?
Reground's service (as a values-led, certified social enterprise committed to creating resilient hyper-local reuse communities) is the gold standard for coffee waste. Direct partnerships with local farms or gardens, where possible, is also a wonderful solution. Food and organic recycling via a private contractor or council is far better than landfill, but lacks the social benefit and can include significant environmental compromise too, so we always encourage roasters to seek a better way, if they can.
Increasingly we are also seeing roasters moving towards a product stewardship model for their coffee, taking responsibility for the end-point of the product that they sell. Reground will be attending MICE this year and are eager to speak with roasters who are ready to do more for their cafe partners.
How can coffee drinkers contribute towards reducing and diverting roasters waste?  (i.e taking sacks home, using chaff in gardens)
Most importantly: by shopping with their values in mind and supporting businesses that are going above and beyond to reduce and avoid waste, emissions and that give back to the community.

When shoppers demonstrate their priorities, producers and retailers hear the message clearly and respond. Coffee drinkers need to create pressure and support for waste avoidance initiatives. For example - by asking roaster's how they manage their organic waste, by always bringing their own cups and containers for coffee beans, refusing packaging, etc.
Signing up for a delivery of ground coffee via Reground is also a great way to support and take part in the circular economy for coffee.
Where does Reground sit within this dynamic?
Right at the heart of it. We are, of course, a waste service in our own right-- we are in cafes and gardens every day getting our hands dirty with the essential work of waste diversion- but we're also advocates for better systems, greater transparency and the circular economy as a whole. Most of us at Reground have worked in the coffee industry, so our position is unique in that we sit at the intersection of roasters and cafe operators, the general public and the waste industry.