Reducing organic coffee waste through upcycling

Holly Szakal
October 13, 2023
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Artisan Roast Coffee Company actively contributes to a circular economy by delivering its coffee by bike. More so, the brand is reducing organic coffee waste by upcycling used coffee grounds into marketable products. As a finalist for the 2023 Circular Economy Grant, self-proclaimed co-foundress, Bernardita Mancilla, explains how the brand is using all the richness from its used coffee grounds. 

Morning awakens in the heart of Santiago, Chile’s capital. The city’s vendors arrange their fresh produce at the local markets: a vibrant cultural testament to the agricultural abundance that surrounds the region.

The distant Andes Mountains remind every Chilean of the bountiful landscape they’re blessed to be immersed in. It also serves as a reminder of just how precious nature is. Two Chileans noted the delicateness of the beauty surrounding them and in the midst of environmental challenges and a need for sustainable solutions, Artisan Roast Chile was launched in 2018. 

The brand was driven by a profound mission that began taking shape as early as 2016, sparked by a question from the future. “We had two motivations,” explains Bernardita, who has over 12 years of experience in climate change, circular economy, stakeholders, and ESG

“First, we wanted to have a good response to the question we thought our daughter would ask by the time she was 15 years old. We were preparing for when she would see the environmental problems and ask what we were doing about it.” 

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Delivering coffee by bicycle to reduce carbon emissions 

Bernardita says the second motivation was the desire to “solve environmental problems while conducting good business; we feel these two are complementary to each other. There are still some companies that put one aspect ahead of the other, and the mainstream decision is to put economic revenues first. We cannot contribute to sustainability if we don’t lead by example.” 

Now, just under halfway to a 15-year promise to their daughter, Bernardita and the team at Artisan Roast Coffee have certainly paved the way for change in the region. The brand was quick to initiate an innovative coffee refilling service that went directly to customers’ homes. 

The refilling programme is a testament to the brand’s no-nonsense approach to climate change. Furthermore, it has become a pivotal aspect of its circular approach to sustainable coffee practices.

The endeavour is a response to the lack of any financial or tax-based incentives for Chilean citizens to curtail organic waste. This has resulted in a lack of motivation among many in the region to repurpose used coffee grounds

For the programme, Artisan Roast Chile sends a push bike courier to customers’ homes – dramatically reducing the brand’s carbon dioxide emissions. The couriers then collect used coffee grounds for upcycling purposes and refill customers’ containers with freshly roasted coffee. The coffee refilling programme serves as an incentive to have coffee stocks replenished without consumers having to visit the roastery. 

“We deliver and collect around 80% of our coffee by bike in Santiago,” Bernardita explains. “This means we have low-carbon delivery and are not contributing to the already heavily polluted air in the city.” 

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Upcycling coffee waste

With Santiago boasting the worst air quality in the Latin American region, it’s no wonder the Chilean roastery is doing all it can to cut its carbon emissions and inspire customers to do the same. Bernardita speaks passionately about why Chileans should be upcycling their coffee waste.

“At Artisan Roast Chile, we’re not only reducing carbon emissions but also recovering the value that is embedded into used coffee grounds,” she says. “It all forms part of the principles of a circular economy.”

She adds that “in the natural environment, everything has value. We have to remember coffee grounds are much more than just a source of caffeine. Coffee beans contain oils and proteins. These are components of a healthy diet for other food productive systems or for the beauty and pharmaceutical sectors.”

Used coffee grounds that end up in landfills can significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, notably methane. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

So, how exactly does Artisan Roast Chile upcycle used coffee grounds? The organic waste is collected by a push-bike courier and made to create marketable products such as body scrubs and hand soaps – all of which come in sustainable packaging. The roastery also offers various seed bombs using organic coffee waste to help provide nutrients to grow herbs and flowers in customers’ gardens.

Furthermore, the brand has taken its upcycling commitment to the next level with a recent partnership with FABLAB at the University of Chile in the next step of its exploration. It has embarked on a journey to develop machinery capable of scaling up the production of various household objects such as plates, mugs, and day-to-day packaging made from used coffee grounds.

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Investing in sustainable coffee packaging

Additionally, Artisan Roast Chile uses recyclable stand-up coffee pouches made from polypropylene (PP). Each white coffee bag features the brand’s simple and sophisticated logo and a hang-hole on the top. The hang hole is used to hold a tasting card, which displays information about the coffee and its growing region. 

Notably, if the demand and production of plastic packaging continue to grow, CO2 emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030. That is equivalent to the carbon emissions of three hundred, 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. 

With climate change on the rise, there’s never been a more crucial time to come together and utilise the power of sustainable packaging in daily practices. Opting for sustainable product packaging on any scale, be it small or large, reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Get to know the finalists of the MTPak Coffee Circular Economy Grant. Read our exclusive interview with Zachary Latimore, the Chief Operations Officer at Biota Coffee about how the brand is helping farmers learn about intercropping coffee to help control pests and lower the risk of disease. 

Images by Artisan Roast Coffee Company

For more information on recyclable coffee packaging, contact our team

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