The 50-ton Coffee Bean in the Room

We all know the metaphor—there’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room, but no one is willing to acknowledge it, and certainly no one is ready to deal with it. Well, what if the 800 pound gorilla was 50 tons of spent coffee grounds—those left behind after the baristas of 5 locally-owned coffee houses have prepared your favorite latte, or coffee of the day? If you were the owner of these coffee houses, you could treat the spent coffee grounds like the gorilla—ignore them, wish they weren’t there, but certainly not spend any time dealing with them in any real way.

Besides, if you are Gary Heine and Mike Mays, co-owners of Heine Brothers Coffee in Louisville, Kentucky, you are already doing your part to run a respectable, sustainable business, right? You import and sell only Organic, Fair Trade, green coffees from small farmer cooperatives. This effort supports a more equitable and sustainable system of coffee trade that directly benefits these farmers, their families, their communities, and the environment. The coffee is grown under canopies of trees. That is why it's called bird-friendly. And, it is grown in sustainable harmony with the environment.

But, no, Gary and Mike just can’t ignore the fact that their business dumps 50 tons of coffee grounds into landfills every year. Instead, they decided to take those coffee grounds, mix them with food waste from local whole foods groceries, along with leaves, cardboard, etc. and turn the coffee grounds into hot compost, that they allow to cool, then feed to worms, who are delighted by the hospitality, and turn the compost into vermicompost. All this under the guise of a new 501(c)(3) called “Breaking New Grounds,” the mission of which, according to Gary, is to turn “waste into wealth," in which coffee grounds become compost, gardens, food, education, jobs, and a healthier earth. Look for more details on this brilliant example of social entrepreneurism in posts to come.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 21, 2007 in Permalink | Comment